Dancer’s Second Act as Pilates Instructor

Ever since she was a little girl, Danielle Shapiro Friedman had a passion for dance. After training at one of New York’s premier dance schools, Friedman joined a New York repertory company in New York, touring throughout the United States for nearly seven years. She eventually choreographed dances as well.

“When you dance, you have a sense of power and control over your own body,” Friedman said. “There’s almost a quality of being out of this world when you’re in the moment of dance. It’s amazing to work in harmony with other dancers, too. It’s a community within the time span of the performance.”

But her own sense of community was shaken up a decade ago when a series of unfortunate events forced her to make the choice between a career she loved and a spiritual path that helped her feel connected. Over time she’s found a way to bring two seemingly discordant aspects of her life together into a single expression of fitness and faith that is benefiting Jewish women.

As the owner of Studio 613 — located on South Robertson Boulevard, between Olympic and Pico boulevards — Friedman has found her niche. Her women-only Pilates venue is providing a safe space for Jews and others to get in shape while maintaining their modesty.

Friedman left New York for Los Angeles in 1987. After launching her own modern dance company, she toured throughout California; an interactive ensemble piece that she choreographed and produced earned rave reviews in the Los Angeles Times. But slowly, Friedman’s life in the world of dance clashed with her growing awareness of Jewish values.

“I worked on my ensemble piece for more than a year, hoping to move people, and then I went to a rabbi’s class and I was more moved in one hour than after a year of working on this performance,” she said.

The class was Friedman’s first exposure to Orthodox Jewish thought.

“I was shocked that a rabbi with a black hat could be so funny and so real,” she said.

From that first encounter, she became a devotee of weekly Torah classes given by Rabbi Baruch Gradon, and has attended them for eight years.

In 1995, Friedman first walked into an Orthodox shul, and felt an unexpected connection to the Hebrew letters she saw.

“I felt I had come home,” she said. “It was a very emotional experience.”

Shortly after, the brewing conflict between the personal and the professional came to a head. Friedman became uncomfortable performing on Shabbat, and her growing desire to uphold the Torah concept of tzniut (modesty) made the act of dancing in public increasingly difficult.

Several months before her next performance was scheduled to open, three of Friedman’s dancers and the composer quit. Another dancer was injured. Friedman wondered whether God was sending her a message. When the theater brochure was printed with the wrong performance date, Friedman felt the message was as clear. With a heavy heart, she disbanded her dance group.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I began teaching Pilates again,” Friedman said. She started bumping into some of her students in kosher markets and kosher bakeries, and they urged her to open her own studio catering to religious women. Thus, Studio 613 was born.

“I wanted a warm, haimish, friendly place, not a typical impersonal L.A. atmosphere,” Friedman said.

She began with 20 clients, renting space from Congregation B’nai David-Judea, but since the “studio” doubled as the shul’s Shabbat childcare program, Friedman had to move her bulky Pilates equipment each Friday. Within a year, she rented her own studio space a few blocks away. Despite minimal advertising, her client list grew rapidly.

Not all clients at Studio 613 are Jewish, and not all of her Jewish clients are religious. Still, Friedman observes that the religious clientele has had an impact on others: “Sometimes a client who’s Reform will call me and ask, ‘I’m going to an Orthodox wedding. What should I wear?’ Or, ‘What’s Sukkot all about?'”

Friedman says that it’s important to her that in addition to providing quality fitness instruction that she is perceived as a Kiddush HaShem, a role model of Jewish ethics and values. The studio is closed on Shabbat and all Jewish holidays, and Friedman handles all scheduling to avoid the few male clients she has from coming to work out at the same time as the Orthodox women.

Christina Lindeman, who is Catholic, has taught at Studio 613 for four years and admits that certain Yiddishisms have crept into her vernacular. She notes wryly that her boyfriend has also become suspicious of her new habit of tying a scarf around her hair.

Lindeman says that teaching at Studio 613 is more challenging than teaching at other studios because many of the clients only have begun to exercise later in life, making it harder to get into shape. Some also have injuries or other medical conditions that require a greater therapeutic emphasis in the teaching.

“Some Orthodox clients are very particular about what they want to work on, but I think it’s because they simply drive themselves hard and are very eager to see results,” she said.

Some Studio 613 clients are refugees from other gyms or exercise routines.

Gila Balsam had tried aerobics and yoga but explains, “Pilates gets the most done with the least amount of effort. With six kids, I don’t have a lot of time. And after a workout, I still have energy.”

Balsam started Pilates four years ago, when she was pregnant with her sixth child, and credits the routine with making the rest of the pregnancy and recovery easier: “My whole body feels more in tune. If I miss a few weeks, I feel totally out of whack.”

Friedman and her husband are the parents of three young children adopted from Russia, so she shares many of the same time management juggling feats as many of her clients. But she openly admits to missing the freewheeling creativity of her days as a dancer.

“Dance was my whole life for many years, so I still mourn it,” she said. “Though I grapple with the loss, I don’t have regrets. In today’s crazy and unsettled world, it’s my Jewish values and lifestyle that help the world make sense.”

Studio 613 is located at 1101 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information, call (310) 273-2025.

Judy Gruen ( is the author of two award-winning humor books, including “Till We Eat Again: Confessions of a Diet Dropout” (Champion, 2002).


An Affair to Remember: Hollywood and the Jews

Oscar night is almost upon us, and there is considerable talk (and pride) about three of the chief contenders — Halle Berry, Will Smith and Denzel Washington — all of whom are black. But don’t be fooled: Hollywood and the film industry is still primarily a Jewish story, no matter who deserves and carts off the evening’s prizes.

No one ever said the story itself — about American Jews and Hollywood — was not complex. Founded by East Coast Jewish immigrants at the turn of the 20th century, the movie industry had looked at first like a nickel-and-dime nickelodeon enterprise that catered to working-class American newcomers. By the time the movie entrepreneurs pulled up stakes and relocated to Los Angeles (roughly between 1907 and 1918) it was too late for the gentile business establishment to elbow its way to an insider’s place at the table.

By the 1930s, the industry was generating great profits, despite the Depression. It had also become highly personal for the Jewish moguls running Hollywood. There’s a story Neal Gabler recounts (in his book "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood") about Louis B. Mayer, the head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, holding movie star Mickey Rooney by the lapel and shaking him. Mayer was furious: "You’re Andy Hardy," he shouted. "You’re the United States. You’re the stars and stripes. Behave yourself. You’re a symbol."

Part of Mayer’s anger, of course, had to do with business. Rooney, still in his late teens, was the star of the "Andy Hardy" series of films, the No. 1 box office draw at MGM. Rooney’s escapades with women were liable to tarnish his image and send ratings down. But much of the anger also had to do with Mayer’s vision of America as an innocent, pure nation.

It mattered little that he was a ruthless studio head and businessman. The America he was projecting in films, and that he idealized, was a glorified land of promise and happy endings, of small-town family life brimming with virtue and filled with a mythic Western past. And it contained no Jews.

In the late 1930s, Mayer’s salary was the highest in the nation. However, he was still considered an outsider by the wealthy non-Jews of Los Angeles. He joined the Hillcrest Country Club, all of whose members were Jewish, because no other club would admit him.

Mayer and his fellow studio heads took this to heart. They bought into the rejection, viewing themselves as somehow socially inferior to the upper-class gentiles they longed to join. But in business, they prided themselves on being a step ahead, very much attuned to the popular culture. Except for the first talkie film, "The Jazz Singer," which was seen as a bold experimental gamble, Jews were considered bad for the box office and were excluded as characters in films and in the portraits of America that were projected, while Jewish actors were forced to Americanize their names.

When "Gentleman’s Agreement," a film dealing with anti-Semitism, was finally made after World War II, neither its producer, Darryl F. Zanuck, nor its director, Elia Kazan, was Jewish.

All that changed in the middle of the 20th century, both with the demise of the studio system and with the advent of television. Today, actors and actresses keep their own names, even when they sound Jewish (e.g. Alicia Silverstone, Adam Sandler, Richard Dreyfuss). Some, Gwyneth Paltrow for example, even make a point of extolling their Jewish heritage; in her case, on her father’s side of the family.

Many films today contain Jewish characters, often military officers, doctors, lawyers, judges and academics, as well as upper-middle class couples; some films have Jewish themes or central characters (e.g. "The Royal Tenenbaums" and "Schindler’s List") and three documentaries about Jews, produced by Rabbi Marvin Hier’s Museum of Tolerance, have won Academy Awards in the past six years.

It is no secret today that many agents, writers, entertainment lawyers and film producers are Jewish. British screenwriter William Cash lashed out at what he identified as "Jewish Hollywood" in the 1990s. He claimed that writers he knew attempted to pass as Jews hoping this would give them an inside edge. No one disputed the story, though most critics indicated that Jews and non-Jews competed on an equal playing field. It was craft and talent, not ethnicity, that secured a writing assignment.

Nevertheless, it has been this sense of a Jewish presence, a Jewish sensibility, within the popular culture that has helped reshape attitudes toward Jews in America. The themes of television’s sitcoms and dramas, while not Jewish, are often reflections of a modern, urban liberal point of view (think "The West Wing," "ER" and "Friends" today; "All in the Family," "Seinfeld" and "Brooklyn Bridge" in the past). It is no accident that Dan Quayle and Pat Buchanan attacked television and films for debasing our culture. Violence and sex made the headlines, but they believed the point of view they were assailing was one held by liberal and secular Democrats. Some Jews in Hollywood saw the attacks as thinly disguised anti-Semitism.

Buchanan and Quayle aside, it is interesting to chart the path that led to the turnabout in attitudes toward Jews in America, to analyze what caused the 180-degree turn that propelled Jews from being outsiders to insiders in America. There is certainly the Holocaust and the horror and guilt that accompanied it; the end of university quotas, both for students and professors; the emergence of Jews as lawyers in major firms and as law school deans in prominent universities. All of these played a role in admitting Jews to the American establishment.

But the imprint of culture — both popular and high culture — on a society that turns often to entertainment and art for both leisure and class status cannot be overestimated. During the second half of this century, we have seen the rise of Jewish writers in America — Saul Bellow, Arthur Miller, J.D. Salinger, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick and Rebecca Goldstein — all of whom have functioned as our nation’s Mark Twains and F. Scott Fitzgeralds, our successors to Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. We are, after all, a nation that proudly exports culture — along with Coca-Cola and jeans — to the rest of the world.

Domestically, the impact has led to a different outcome. Films and television have affected all Americans and, in the process, have helped integrate Jews into America. They have also introduced Jewish words, style and feelings into our national identity. Ironically, it is the last thing in the world that Mayer and the other Hollywood moguls desired. They wanted their America simple and small-town innocent — and without any tribal relatives.

Come Oscar night, we might recognize the unintended consequences of the world they helped create. We Jews are perhaps the greatest beneficiaries of the dream industry. And whether or not Washington, Judi Dench or Ron Howard are Oscar winners, it does not alter the profound role that Hollywood has played — and continues to play — in the lives of America’s Jews.

Stanley Kramer, 87

Legendary filmmaker Stanley Earl Kramer, best known for films such as the classic western "High Noon," died on Feb. 19 of pneumonia. He was 87.

Born in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen on Sept. 29, 1913, Kramer was among the pioneer independent producers, working outside the studio system to finance his socially conscious films. After working at MGM, he started his own production company in 1947. Kramer’s first film, "So This Is New York," flopped, but he scored with subsequent projects — 1949’s "The Champion," and "Home of the Brave," addressing anti-Semitism in the armed forces.

Kramer’s distinguished filmography also includes "The Wild Ones" (1954) with Marlon Brando; 1958’s "The Defiant Ones" with Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier; "Inherit the Wind" (1960); and "Judgment at Nuremberg" (1961), about the Nazi war-crimes tribunal. Kramer also made the ambitious, three-hour-plus comedy epic "It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963), famous for a marathon celebrity roster that included Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, and Don Knotts.

After his last feature, 1979’s "The Runner Stumbles," flopped, Kramer moved his family to Seattle, where he taught at the University of Washington and wrote a weekly column for The Seattle Times. Seven years later, he returned to Hollywood and unsuccessfully tried to launch features on Lech Walesa and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. While the nine-time nominated Kramer never won an Academy Award, four actors did win Oscars® for roles in his films: Katharine Hepburn for "Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner"; Maximilian Schell for "Judgment at Nuremberg"; Gary Cooper for "High Noon"; and Jose Ferrer for "Cyrano de Bergerac."

Kramer was residing in the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills when he passed away. He is survived by Karen Sharpe Kramer, his wife of 35 years; and two daughters.

Deconstructing Harry

When Harry Blitzstein decided to open up his Blitzstein Museum of Art (facetiously subtitled “Formerly Moe’s Meat Market”), the neighboring merchants on Fairfax Avenue had a unanimous reaction.”They thought I was just kidding,” the painter said.

After all, area residents have known Blitzstein all of his life. Harry was the son of the owner of Fair Shoe Stop, a long-standing establishment that folded in 1984, a few months after the death of Blitzstein’s father. However, since opening his studio five years ago in the building that once housed his father’s store, Blitzstein has become as venerable a Fairfax Avenue institution as the famed L.A. delicatessen across the street. In fact, Blitzstein points out that his father, whose business originated in Boyle Heights, used to repair shoes for old man Canter himself.

These days, Blitzstein can often be found at his storefront gallery, sitting in the eye of his artistic hurricane — a dense output of nearly 200 pieces peopled with his “spirits and creatures” that sometimes literally leap out of the picture frame. These cartoonish oil portraits, rendered in quick, freewheeling swaths of paint, defy description or category; they’re something like the Cartoon Network broadcast from inside a German Expressionist’s fever dream. And that’s not even including the frenzied mural of doodles that adorns the floor.

According to Blitzstein, he opened the gallery “the same way I paint, just to see the reaction of the people.” That reaction has run the range from befuddlement among the local denizens to energized among the extended community of artists, models and writers.

They are not alone. Even Blitzstein’s grown children don’t quite know what to make of his work. And Blitzstein’s parents, whose lineage traces back to Russia, never really appreciated or supported what he does either… and that’s despite the fact that his mother, now 89, is an artist herself.

“She didn’t really encourage me,” said Blitzstein, who has been the subject of eight shows in recent years.

“My work is probably a departure from pretty little pictures. Not seeking beauty in that sense.”

Blitzstein — who paints before noon and finds drawing “relaxing, like doing a jigsaw puzzle” — admits that the spurts in which his stuff sells (prices range from $5 to $40,000) can be discouraging.

“Yes, sometimes I’ll just want to fold up for good, and then someone comes in and wants to buy a painting or make a movie about me,” said the 62-year-old artist, whose work has appeared in a handful of offbeat films, such as the beloved cult horror favorite “Puppet Master.”

“Offbeat” is a term that’s been used to describe Blitzstein’s work. Many people off the streets visiting the Museum of Art barely stay long enough to meet Art — Blitzstein’s synergistically named black cocker spaniel who is not the subject of his museum.

Although his work draws inspiration from artists such as Goya and Putin, Blitzstein is more moved by great literature and music — these days, Kafka and Isaac Bashevis Singer linger on his nightstand, while Mahler and Leonard Cohen spin on his turntable. Surprisingly, the world of cartoons had little impact on the young Blitzstein while growing up, save for the genius of Dr. Seuss and a casual interest in Warner Bros. shorts and Disney features. That comes as a shock given the loopy, whimsical nature of his work and the loose gestural sketches that often resemble something torn from an animator’s sketchbook.

Blitzstein keeps a portfolio that just may underscore the driving philosophy behind his work. The three-ring folder is filled with “masterpieces” of contemporary and pop art artists: Rauschenberg, Johns, Lichtenstein. The difference: each picture plane is invaded, intruded and interloped upon by a freaky-faced Blitzstein creation.

Blitzstein frankly feels that many of the darlings of the art world are overpuffed souffl├ęs, and that critics and buyers alike cannot identify a great work of art beyond hype and celebrity.

“People need familiarity,” said Blitzstein. “They feel safe because it’s acclaimed. That’s not art, that’s commerce.”

He has equal patience for the genteel, pompous portraits and landscapes that might fill a museum such as the British National Gallery: “One boring face after another. I want to just blow that apart.”

Indeed, Blitzstein revels in blowing apart the pretentions of the modern. His art is all about escaping from the mind-numbing universe of minutiae and routine that intrudes on our everyday life. Anyone suffering from whiplash is advised to stay out of the Blitzstein Museum of Art, where you’ll spend much time looking up at the hundreds of dolphins, camels, rat-faced dogs and other critters ignoring the constraints of their canvas to reach out to you. They include dogs inspired by the knotholes in the wood Blitzstein paints on and toucans dating back to his L.A. High School days, when Blitzstein drew them on the margins of his schoolwork “so I could not listen to the teacher doing chemistry equations.” And if this zany menagerie seems to vie for your affection, that’s because, as Blitzstein puts it, “they’re little creatures that want to be loved.”

The Blitzstein Museum of Art is located at 428 N. Fairfax Ave. For more information, call (323) 852-4830.