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In It for the Long Run

The Union-based Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

Posted January 16, 2012 by Karyn D. Collins

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Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company
Carolyn Dorfman, above, creates dances that stem from her background as the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
Courtesy of Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company/Tom Caravaglia.

When the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company marks its 30th anniversary in 2013, the celebration will be as much for the work of the Union-based company and its artistic director and namesake as for the rarity of a New Jersey modern dance company spanning three decades.

Carolyn Dorfman’s works regularly earn praise, particularly her pieces that reflect her Jewish background—she’s the daughter of two Holocaust survivors—and those that focus on women’s lives.

But this highly regarded output, together with Dorfman’s dedication to teaching, is best set in the context of the company’s longevity. After all, if survival in the dance world is difficult, sustaining a professional modern dance company in New Jersey can seem downright miraculous. And yet, Dorfman has thrived, thanks to her ability to fashion well-constructed, emotionally evocative works, as well as her business savvy and sharp focus.

“Someone once asked me, ‘Do you want to be famous?’, and I said ‘No. I just want to be respected.’ I didn’t have a goal of being around for a long time. I just wanted to make quality work,” Dorfman says.

That attitude has earned Dorfman the respect of her dance contemporaries. “She’s someone who really strongly believes in what she does and doesn’t waver with the trends,” says choreographer Robert Battle, the artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. “Her work stays rooted in her humanitarian beliefs that the work comes from and should reflect people’s lives.”

Dorfman’s dance creations are further renowned for their physicality and athleticism, as well as their structure and completeness.

“I’m a structuralist,” she acknowledges. “To me, there’s a difference between really incredible movement and creating a dance with a whole, that has a beginning, a middle and an end…. I really care deeply about people feeling like a work has gone somewhere. Even if it’s an abstraction, there should still be a feeling that we’ve traveled from one place to another.”

Dorfman also feels strongly about communicating with audiences. A stated mission of her 10-member company is to engage audiences in the creative process of CDDC through open rehearsals, family and school performances, meet-the-artist events and post-performance discussions. Upcoming area commitments include the 2012 performance and gala, February 4 at the South Orange Performing Arts Center; and a series of performances March 22 and 23 at the Jersey Moves! Festival of Dance at NJPAC in Newark.

The Short Hills resident also tries to make time for other pursuits, especially her family—husband Gregory Gallick, an orthopedic surgeon; and their two daughters, Samantha, 18, and Rebecca, 22. Other interests include reading nonfiction, walking and playing Scrabble on her iPad.

But make no mistake, creating dance and taking audiences on a journey are paramount for Dorfman.
One of the places she has taken audiences is into reflections of the American Jewish experience. The irony, says the Michigan native, is that while being the child of Holocaust survivors was a central part of her life growing up, it was not something she planned to focus on in her choreography. Instead, the work emerged over time.

“I found that it just came out of me,” she says. “That foundation as a child of survivors has probably affected me more as a human being in creating who I am in terms of my view of the world, my sense of humanism and justice, and my sense of really embracing communities and wanting to build bridges. It sounds very Pollyannaish, but at the end of the day it is who I am. It’s the basis of who I am as a woman, as an artist, a wife, a daughter, a member of the human race. It’s all part of these concentric circles that are sent out into the universe. And my work reflects that.” 

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