Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center


Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center is a non-profit music and culture venue that has operated as a self-contained global village, specializing in the presentation of live roots music. The mission of Ashkenaz is to bring people of all classes, races, cultures and ages together with musical programs. Their programs are as diverse as the communities it hosts, including Balkan, Celtic, Cajun/Zydeco, Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean, and Reggae, as well as American roots traditions from Appalachian to the Blues. In the Spark episode “Community Institutions for the Arts,” viewers visit this nationally renowned venue and meet its dedicated staff as they provide a much-needed space for thousands of people in the Bay Area to enjoy traditional music and dance from around the world.

In 1973, David Nadel founded Ashkenaz as a community gathering place, expressing his belief that dancing and moving to music was akin to a spiritual experience that united peoples of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnic heritages. What began as a folkdance venue with recorded music gradually expanded to feature live bands representing the diversity of the region. And indeed, people from all over the Bay Area come for the performances and dance classes. Even Sue Schleiffer, the Executive Director, started coming to Ashkenaz in the 1970s to enjoy folk dancing and has been there ever since.

Despite the fact that Nadel himself is no longer part of the daily life of Ashkenaz, his spirit lives on. Nadel was shot and killed in 1996 by a disgruntled visitor who was asked to leave and returned to the venue after-hours. Dedicated friends and colleagues have worked tirelessly to keep the organization and Nadel’s dream going, exemplified by staff members such as night manager Larry Chin, who has worked at Ashkenaz for 20 years. Today, Chin walks in Nidel’s footsteps, doing everything from bartending to taking care of the artists.

Many artists and national acts come to Ashkenaz knowing that it may not be as profitable as performing at other venues, but the loyal, diverse, and appreciative audience amply compensates. Additionally, folk artists often find that there is a sense of community at Ashkenaz that immediately connects them to their audience, as if they are playing to people from their own countries, hometowns, and villages, encouraging them on their path towards sharing their traditions and cultures.

Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center
Where: 1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley
Phone: (510) 525-5054

Ashkenaz is wheelchair accessible and family friendly with free admission for those 12 and under.

Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center 5 August,2015Spark


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Community Institutions for the Arts

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