ASHKENAZ MUSIC & DANCE COMMUNITY CENTER
ashkenaz mission and history
“For me, Ashkenaz is much more than a club; every show is a family reunion, with a family you actually get along with.”
– Noam Biale, written when a student at Berkeley High School
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Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center presents concerts, classes, and workshops of participatory dance and music rooted in traditional cultures from around the world. We are committed to providing a great place to dance that supports local and international bands of both established and emerging artists in a respectful, comfortable, safe, family atmosphere. Through this we build friendship and culturally inclusive community that encourages social awareness, education, and dedication to fairness, honor, and equality.
World and Roots Music
Ashkenaz is a nationally recognized nonprofit music and culture venue that specializes in presenting live world and roots music. People of all ages, cultures, and lifestyles come together here for music and dance programs that include African, Balkan, Brazilian, Cajun/Zydeco, Caribbean, Middle Eastern, Reggae, American roots from Bluegrass to Swing, and more. Ashkenaz presents nightly live music, dance, and movement classes, workshops, programs for children, and benefit shows.
All Ages, All the Time
All programs are open to children, and kids 12 and under receive free admission (unless otherwise noted).
Ashkenaz is wheelchair accessible and has ample parking in the lot across the street after 9 pm.
history of ashkenaz
Ashkenaz was founded in 1973 by David Nadel, a dedicated human rights activist and folkdancer, in response to the San Francisco Bay Area’s strong interest in international folk dance. As a dancer with the Westwind International Folk Ensemble, David experienced how listening and dancing to the music of other cultures fostered an understanding of different heritages. He was determined to make this experience available to others, and envisioned a place where the world's music and dance would dissolve the differences that keep people apart.
David transformed a warehouse on San Pablo Avenue into a dancehall devoted to presenting international and contemporary roots music and dance. It is modeled after an Eastern European wooden synagogue, in honor of his Ashkenazi Jewish ancestors.
“I did not know David Nadel personally. But I do know that we shared a common experience and belief. Dance changed our lives. He believed, and I believe, in the transformative power of dance. The place David created is unique – nowhere else can you dance to such a variety of live music. And no place else has the sense of community that Ashkenaz embodies.”
– A local dance and music lover
David pioneered the presentation of world music long before the genre had a name. For 24 years he led Ashkenaz to become a community gathering place presenting music as diverse as Balkan, Cajun, Zydeco, African Highlife, Brazilian Samba, Afrobeat, Calypso, Soca, Blues, Contra Dance, Eastern European folk music, Flamenco, Reggae, Salsa, Ska, Soukous, Bluegrass, East & West Coast Swing, and more.
The Community Saves Ashkenaz
In 1996, founder David Nadel was murdered by a drunk and unruly patron he had ejected from the premises. The community responded: Ashkenaz dancers, musicians, employees, patrons and activists came together and formed a tax-exempt nonprofit arts organization to continue the important cultural work that David Nadel began. With overwhelming community support, the Ashkenaz nonprofit organization was able to buy the building to continue presenting dance concerts, educational workshops, and fundraisers six to seven nights a week year-round. The dancehall dedicated to peace and nonviolence would remain open despite the one violent act that could have closed its doors.
To this day, Ashkenaz builds community through multicultural, participatory music and dance. In a world increasingly filled with racial and ethnic strife, Ashkenaz will continue to be a safe place where diverse audiences gather to dance to the rhythms of the peoples of the world.
Fund the Floor
In 2001, Ashkenaz launched a fundraising campaign to "fund the floor." Donors were given the opportunity to commomorate themselves, their organizations or a loved one by contributing $200 or more toward a plank for the new floor. The campaign was a success and a new floor was installed January 2002. The floor is made of 3-4 inch tounge-in-groove maple flooring which originally came from the hudson pencil factory in San Leandro. On February 1, 2002, the floors were unveiled at a grand reopening party attended by more than 450 people with music by Tom Rigney & Flambeau and Tropical Vibrations.
Fund the Floor donor names are displayed on a plaque on the Ashkenaz dance floor history wall in the hallway at Ashkenaz.
The Ashkenaz Peace Wall grew from a collaboration between World Wall for Peace and members of the West Berkeley neighborhood where Ashkenaz is located. The wall tiles were painted at Ashkenaz, at the first dance-a-thon on January 17, 1998 and at Peoplle's Park Fair on May 10, 1998 (Mother's Day) . The World Wall for Peace was dedicated to Ashkenaz founder David Nadel on December 20,1998 by City Council member, Linda Maio and Carolyna Marks, founder of the World Wall for Peace. There are walls in 31 countries containing over 36,000 tiles. The Ashkenaz World Wall for Peace contains 108 individual tiles.
A 'Thank You' tile was painted in dedication of the Wall.
City of Berkeley Proclamation-David Nadel Week
Proclamation honoring David Nadel and declaring the week of January 14, 1997 to January 21st 1997 David Nadel week.