Jane Raleigh makes dance happen, whether it’s at a two-year-old’s birthday party, a friend’s wedding or on the Opera House stage at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The Falls Church native grew up shuttling between ballet lessons and Hebrew school at Temple Rodef Shalom, where she also sang in the synagogue’s youth and teen choirs. Raleigh, 32, now serves as director of dance programming at the Kennedy Center, curating the ballet season, producing the center’s National Dance Day celebration and curating and negotiating contracts for dance performances throughout the year. She lives in Adams Morgan with her husband, Chris, and they enjoy exploring city pubs and bars via Metro (check out @raildrinks on Instagram). Active in Rodef 2100, Raleigh served as its president for five years and just recently exited the board of the synagogue’s young professionals’ group.
Will you share your dance origin story?
I was an active kid dancing around the house. I put on a lot of performances in the living room and thought I was extremely talented. When I was five, I asked my parents to put me in dance class. My earliest memories of the class are that I thought it was boring because, obviously, I was so much more talented doing these massive performances at my own house. I felt it was beneath me to learn technique and actually put names to steps. But I loved it. And I studied primarily ballet my entire childhood at Arlington Center for Dance, which is now BalletNova.
You trained seriously in ballet through high school. What happened next?
I did the whole pre-professional ballet track, going away to summer [ballet] intensives…but I also was a bookworm and loved school, loved academics. When it came time to audition or [apply] to college, I felt strongly that I wanted a liberal arts school. I went to the College of William and Mary in Colonial Williamsburg where I was a dance minor – there was no dance major. I loved the program, which is small enough that it gave me many opportunities to choreograph, to lead, to engage as a dance captain in the theater performances.
Your dad, Dennis Rabinovitz, played a role in getting you to perform at Temple.
My dad is known as the “Megillah Man” at Rodef Shalom. He did 12 megillah [Purim plays] that he wrote and directed. I was in six of them as the pre-teen and teenager. Each one was a different musical parody – old movies like “Singing in the Rain,” “The Wizard of Oz,” there was a disco one and a pirates one…I played Esther the year that it was Tarzan-themed.
Aside from Purim, how do you see the distinctive threads of dance and performance and Judaism connecting in your life?
I was arts involved at the temple and always have been. I sang in the original children’s choir at Rodef Shalom, which is called Shir Harmony…then I was in first iteration of the teen choir, which is called Kol Machar.
One thing I love specifically about synagogue life is that because of events like the megillah every year, Judaism has always been about intergenerational friendships: We’re all in this megillah cast together because we love the arts and we think Jewish cultural celebration is fun. That allows me to be friends with someone older than my parents.
Arts and dance spaces also equalize you regardless of age and background. In choirs, age totally doesn’t matter: You’re an alto and the woman next to you is 40 years older than you, and she’s an alto. We’re both singing same music.
What’s next for you?
I will be going to Israel in December for the International Exposure Festival, which is a dance-only festival put on by the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater in Tel Aviv. I’ve never been to Israel, so I’m really excited. It will be cool to have my first Israel experience focused on dance, and then I plan to stay and visit the major sites. I haven’t known many Israelis all that deeply or had any real connections to people who are embedded in Israeli culture. But Israeli contemporary dance has such a specifically famous aesthetic. Even within the range of Israeli dance [on stage], there is something that you can see and just be like, “Ahhh, this choreographer is Israeli.” I don’t quite know what that is, so I’m excited to see a whole bunch of Israeli dance and try to understand what that is that’s coming through.
Lisa Traiger is Washington Jewish Week’s arts correspondent.