Guest artist story, October 11, 2022

Evelyn Summer shares the story of her mother, the unbreakable Hannah Kroner Segal. A dancer and teacher, a Holocaust survivor, and a leader to those around her.

“No matter what, we keep dancing”

Evelyn presented the story of her mother, a dancer and choreographer in Berlin’s Jewish (Jüdischer) Kulturbund, spinning a tale of survival, perseverance, and resilience in the face of hardship and oppression.

Born in Berlin, 1920, Hannah Kroner danced from a young age. She started dancing as a child alongside Suzanna, her friend and adopted sister who lived with her family after her parents passed. She trained in a number of disciplines, and became a professional dancer as the Nazi party rose to power in Germany. While Jews were forbidden from entering schools under the new regime, she was able to continue pursuing her dream of dancing under a Swiss instructor. As she completed her schooling and readied herself to enter the professional dance world, laws were passed forbidding Jews again from performing on stage, with countries abroad rejecting employment applications from Germans. In 1937, when Hannah was 18 years old, she was accepted to the Kulturbund, one of few places where Jews were able to perform dance, theater, and pursue creativity.

In August of 1939, when laws passed criminalizing unemployed Jews, Hannah choreographed a pantomime with her fellow dancers, giving them precious little time to obtain visas and flee Germany, ultimately saving their lives and letting them survive the war. She and her family narrowly escaped the persecution, imprisonment, and death that those around her faced. Leaving without notice, she left behind loved ones, some never to know if they lived or died.

Hannah and Marion, the Corley Sisters, in costume. (1938)

When Hannah arrived in the United States, she worked incredibly hard to continue dancing. She formed a group with a fellow German, performing nightclubs from Boston, to New York, to D.C. She started her own dance school in her living room as the war ended in 1947, with her daughter Evelyn as her only student. Her new school grew so quickly she moved to a studio in Queens, New York City. She taught and choreographed character dances, musicals, and mimes, and even made all of the costumes for her dancers in the early days of the group. Not only did she do all this as a mother and homemaker, but also did so in a time when few women owned businesses, and was an entrepreneur of her own making. She had continued success in her careerr, and taught well into her 80’s. She hosted her own studio’s 60th reunion, and continued teaching to fellow seniors after moving to an assisted living facility.

Hannah passed shortly after her 95th birthday.

“No matter what, we keep dancing.” was what she always told Evelyn. Through any hardship, the way through every time of struggle and strife is to keep dancing. For her and the other girls who learned under Hannah, they knew her as not only a proud, strong, and skilled dancer, but a role model, and someone to push them to resilience themselves. She showed them that nothing, not even the oppression, the hate, and the evil of the Nazi regime can stop the enduring spirit of the dancer, the Jewish people, and the men and women who suffered under them.

Hannah’s Legacy: Evelyn Carries the Torch

Hannah Kroner’s legacy lives on in Evelyn, both in her telling of her Mothers story and her continued contribution to the art of dance. Not only is Hannah’s story told in Evelyn’s book, No Mattter What We Keep Dancing, but she appears in a chapter of Pascale Hugues’ book of stories of Berlin, as well as giving the title Hannah’s Dress.

For more information about Hannah, see Hannah’s Dance: The Last Dance of the Kulturbund.