“PS DANCE!”— “Dance for Every Child”

PS Dance


“Dance for Every Child”

Amos Lassen

In Nel Shelby’s new documentary, “PS DANCE!” we learn that are nearly four hundred certified dance instructors in the public schools of New York City. What we see immediately is that 1200 of the 1800 schools do not have dance programs and they are needed there. The film was two years in the making and it contains interviews with some 16 kids and we see more than a hundred others enjoying the dance program. The dance program influences their daily learning and we see that dance can be part of the daily core curriculum from kindergarten through grade 12.


We hear from dance ambassador Jody Gottfried Arnhold and dance education consultant Joan Finkelstein and they back up the above statement. We meet master dance educators Catherine Gallant, Ana Nery Fragoso, Michael Kerr, Ani Udovicki and Patricia Dye and watch as they demonstrate and discuss how a rich dance education develops artistic, social, academic and life skills in their students from elementary through high school. Of the four hundred dance teachers now in the system, 192 of them are certified by the state. There is a movement to build a new budget that will give support to the schools in order to have arts programs. Dance is now considered as a high-need subject area, and as you watch this film you will see why.


The film wonderfully shows us what happens when children dance because it is part of their studies. We see imagination, curiosity, hard work and discipline. It is almost as if a veil of gloom is lifted when we watch these children and we immediately understand why there is a movement to try to provide dance for every child. We see collaboration and joy in the middle schools and wonderful cooperation among high school dance students. They even say that dancing keeps in school and not on the streets. We become aware of the transformative power of dance and we how it inspires and connects people as well as gets a breeding round for discipline and hard work. It also teaches what our students so badly need to learn— respect. As one who has been in the classroom for over fifty years, the one thing that teachers seem to have lost over time is the respect they are due.


Paula Zahn narrates this film as it looks at how the lives of students have been transformed and changed by dance. I have never taught in a school that has had dance in the curriculum but as I watched this I certainly could see how it helps.

“Parents, educators and researchers have observed that studying dance boosts self-confidence, self-esteem, sense of identity, and helps children to develop an understanding of how to navigate the world as adults”.

“The Provocateur’s Payback” by Paco Munoz-Botas— A Gay Thriller of International Intrigue

the provocateur

Munoz-Botas, Paco. “The Provocateur’s Payback”, Riverdale Avenue Books, 2015.

A Gay Thriller of International Intrigue

Amos Lassen

One summer night Curro, a playboy who has become disillusioned with the club scene, was driving back to his home in Madrid after spending time at his summer home. He heard someone yelling for help and before he could do anything, Dima, a good-looking martial art who was running from the Russian mafia, was in the front seat of Curro’s convertible. It was at that point that Curro began to speed to reach a point of safety. Of course it helps that Dima is so exceptionally handsome. They two men reach Curro’s home where Dima is able to tend to his stab wounds and recover. Later while at a very exclusive nightclub in Madrid, Dima met Eugenia, a beautiful super model that the elite of the city had already regarded as the perfect mate for Curro.

I must say a word about the description—I felt that I was in Spain watching the whole book take place.Curro, our central character, has been grieving over the loss of his dog, Tratso. I read one review of this book that said that the book was so concerned with the dog, that the rest of it made little sense. Obviously this cold-hearted person has not had a pet or gotten to know one. Our pets are part of our family and we have everything to mourn them when they are gone.

Now back to the other characters (and yes I include the dog as a character). When Curro finds Dima in his car, we see the beginning of a deep friendship between the two men (even though Curro would like it to be something more than friendship.

The various settings in the book are important to the plot and whether we are in a dimly lit dirty nightclub or the Madrid Opera House, we see that where we are matters to the progression of the novel. The reason that Dima is being chased by Gagarin and the Russian mafia is because they think that his father stole some 50 million Euros from money launderers. The mafia killed Dima’s parents but did   not find the money and so they think he might have some knowledge about where it is. There is a lot of wit and action.

One must be willing to open their minds to enjoy this book. Even though I did not find it completely satisfying I did see some really good writing as well as some mistakes that should have been caught by an editor. There are several surprises and twists along the way and I found it to be quite a satisfying read.

“The Body” by RJ Martin— Christian and Gay

the body

Martin, RJ. “The Body”, Harmony Ink Press, 2015).

Christian and Gay

Amos Lassen

Jonah Gregory is a gay teen with very strong yet unconventional faith. He really believes that Jesus Christ is gay. He is sure that Christ returns his love for him just as he does for Christ. Jonah even planned to become a priest but then he met Rusty, a closeted teen and the son of a romance writer. Jonah thinks that Rusty looks just like Jesus and soon finds himself in a dilemma. He has trouble deciding which is more important, his sexual biological desires or the calling to serve his faith. It becomes even more difficult because every time he looks at Rusty he sees Jesus. While he deals with this, he receives support from his parents.

RJ Martin writes with emotion and sensitivity as he brings us Jonah’s story and I could not help but think that this is a wonderful book for young gay Christians who are having a rough time reconciling their faith with their sexuality. Jonah’s situation is by no means unique and one of the biggest issues in the LGBT community has to do with finding ways to bring religion and sexuality together.

RJ Martin certainly gives us some ideas to think about and for me that is what literature is all about. Here we have a story of one boy’s deep faith that is challenged by who he is. While we do not get answers, we read how Jonah deals with this challenge and we learn something about the four “F”s—family, friendship, first love and faith. Jonah is a character that we can see ourselves in. Love, after all, is like faith, personal. He is at the doorstep of adulthood and wants to make sure that he is making the right decision.

When I think of how many coming-of-age stories are out there, I understand how difficult it is to be original yet this is a book is totally original and fresh. I love that there is humor and pathos here but even more important are the ideas we read about and they are so very important.

“DO I SOUND GAY?”— The Gay Voice

do I sound gay

“Do I Sound Gay?”

The Gay Voice

Amos Lassen

David Thorpe’s documentary looks at the stigma that has become attached to the gay voice as well as his own anxieties about sounding gay. Thorpe is a journalist and while dealing with his own forty something years and being newly single again, he felt that perhaps the reason that his boyfriend was because he sounded too gay. He then took it upon himself to ask others if he indeed sounded gay. He does not like voices that sound gay and the first thing he had to do was accept that fact about himself. He even went to a therapist to find a way of not sounding gay when he talked. He also asked for advice from his friends and asked other people if they too thought he sounded gay.


David Sedaris tells him that his own voice is quite effeminate and there have been times, while on the phone, that he was mistaken for a woman. He also shares that he feels good when someone tells him that he does not sound gay. Tim Gunn from “Project Runway” says that the first time he heard his own voice, he was shocked but he has learned to live with his “gay-sounding” voice and has even grown to love it. Dan Savage weighs in by saying that if someone hates his voice, he is suffering from his own internal homophobia.


Hearing what others say about the subject is a good part of the documentary and it is surprising that there are those who not at all concerned with what they sound like. He asks several of his friends how they feel about the new voice that the therapist helped me find and they almost unanimously answered that they see no difference. We see that his voice did not change but that he did in regards to it. Ultimately we see that Thorpe understands that there is nothing wrong with sounding  like he does, and that there is nothing wrong about being a gay with a gay voice. 


The best scenes in the film are those with Thorpe working with a voice coach, where he is told to be careful with “S” sounds and to speak with a flat cadence. When he practices these on his own, we see his anguish and he has been out for more than twenty years.

The Thorpe we first meet is a clever man who feels out of place because of his voice. He inspect his history with a high voice as he plays to the camera, speaks along with film and television clips, and invites viewers into his world. We also see him feeling lonely and as a person trying very hard to change the course of his life to a certain degree and this begins with his speech. Sometimes it feels like we are watching a home movie as Thorpe talks about growing up in South Carolina where he where he had to deal with gay slurs from bullies.


The documentary tries to be intimate and informative and succeeds in those goals.

“Breaking Up Point” by Brian McNamara— Starting a New Life

breaking up point

McNamara, Brian. “Breaking Up Point”, Bold Strokes Books, 2015.

Starting a New Life

Amos Lassen

Brendan Madden is ready to start his freshman year of college and even though he is excited about doing so, there is a touch of sadness in that he has to say good-bye to his high school boyfriend, Mark. New beginnings are never easy but he manages to find a place to be himself at college and he loves his new friends and the new feeling of being independent. However he and in Mark are in two different locations and this puts a strain on their relationship but there is something else. Mark cannot be open about being gay while Brendan can be whatever he wants to be. Brendan is torn—he loves Mark but in order to maintain a relationship with him, he has to compromise who he is. Even more than that is the fact that staying in a relationship with Mark means that he is not free to finding new romance at school.

Now if you think the way I do you probably feel that id Brendan really loves Mark, distance and desire for others should be no problem. Now since this is a sequel no another book (“Bottled Up Secret”), I decided to have a look to see if there was anything there that had some influence on the relationship and I discovered that indeed there is.

Brendan was already out to his family and friends while Mark is not only in the closet but a year younger than Brendan and still in high school. The two have shared some intimacies but Brendan has decided to save losing his virginity for marriage. He is also not ready to live a closeted life style. When we combine this with Brendan’s new freedom, we can better understand how he feels. We do see Brendan as more mature than Mark and Brendan seems to think that Mark will never really come out.

Brendan makes some great friends at college especially Andres from his business class. Brendan can confide in him and he, in return, offers good advice. Besides he is a bit older and a bit more mature and is definitely a compassionate guy.

Since the story is narrated by Brendan and wonderfully so, we do not get a lot of information about Mark and his family and I would have liked that. Yet that is a minor issue when looking at the book as a whole.

Coming out is quite an ordeal for many and even though it is becoming easier, there are still many who struggle with it. Both Brendan and Mark face that struggle and each has different challenges to deal with. That along with long distance relationships, independence and college are dealt with here and more importantly is self-acceptance which Brendan does well.

While this is a book aimed at the younger crowd there are two graphically sexual scenes here. Without them this would be a wonderful book for young readers. We get a taste of teen angst and indecision that many young gay people will identify with. How Brendan approaches and deals with the situations he has is the same as so many others. I have a feeling that we will be hearting from Brendan again and I hope so.

“Hidden Inheritance: Family Secrets, Memory, and Faith” by Heidi B. Neumark— Family Secrets and Faith

hidden inheritance

Neumark, Heidi B. “Hidden Inheritance: Family Secrets, Memory, and Faith”, Abingdon Press, 2015.

Family Secrets and Faith

Amos Lassen

Note: Because the book is written in such a conversational way, I have decided to refer to the author by her first name, something I usually try not to do.

One night while using the computer, Heidi Neumark’s daughter discovered her Jewish heritage, something that her family had hidden from her. With that discovery came a myriad of questions but the basic one was why had Judaism and her family history been hidden for so long. As she began her search for who she really was, her journey became more and more personal, especially since she had been a Lutheran pastor for some thirty years. We can certainly understand how shocking it was for her to learn that she was actually Jewish. Heidi’s story is one that brings together “social history, biblical reflection and personal narrative”. In turn, it makes us, the readers, look to our own histories; identities, vocations and theologies. We also see that now with the Internet, nothing stays hidden for very long.

As far as she knew, Heidi was from a German background and her family practiced traditional German Christmas celebrations. She is an ordained Lutheran minister on New York’s Upper West Side with a strong social outreach to homeless LGBT youth. She understood that her Lutheran theology had been passed down for generations. But that all changed when her daughter discovered the Jewish family roots. She learned that her grandfather Moritz was actually a Jewish engineer named Moses and that he was put to death in the camp at Theresienstadt. Her grandmother managed to survive and moved to Switzerland where she never spoke about her identity or the war years and it was then that the Neumark family totally assimilated and there was never a mention of Judaism.

As Heidi Neumark researched her family, she found Jewish members and information about her grandfather’s work and then she discovered a Polish gentile who took it upon himself to write down whatever he could about the Jews before the War. This was where she learned that some Jews were baptized to avoid Nazi persecution while many refused to believe what was happening. I doubt that many of us could imagine discovering something so life changing as this. As Heidi researched more, the more she learned. She traveled to Germany to retrace what her family had been through and she spent time thinking about the role that the Lutheran religion would have in how she reacted to these revelations. She shares with us what she discovered and brings that together with her own experiences of dealing with homeless LGBT youth and their traumas. Heidi sends forth a call to remind us to be aware of who we are. We all understand why people would put Holocaust experiences behind them but in a sense this is one way of avoiding the truth.

This is a story of connections —those we are aware of and those we are not. The reverend Heidi Neumark thought that her life was settled and then she discovered a whole other connection of which she had not been aware. Perhaps the greatest difficulty was her knowing that the German Lutheran church was complicit in the Holocaust and this really tested her faith and self-ethnic identification. We read that Heidi’s father left the Jewish behind when he came to America to start a new life. As Heidi searched for information, she seemed to never tire or lose hope that she would discover what she was looking to find. How she discovered what she did and how she is remarkable. She had serious questions to deal with and she did so beautifully (although I doubt that she is finished dealing with them).

Reading this book was like sitting in a coffee shop with a close friend who was telling me the story of his/her life. It is written in a conversational manner and there are issues that still must be dealt with. The author deals with two major issues concerning religion—her own Lutheran faith and the Jewish faith which might have been hers had it not been covered up. We get her honest reaction to what she learned and how it affected her and her family. She learns about her family gradually but during that time she also becomes aware of Nazi influences on the Lutheran church before and during World War II, as well as anti-Semitic activities in the United States during the war.

We can understand Heidi’s shock in discovering her Jewish heritage, and her need to explore what she learned. We certainly can understand why the impact was so intense and we see that faith can easily help us through rough periods as her faith helped her.

If there is a lesson here it is to look at our pasts and when we find secrets to question them.


“Stonewall” Gets Mixed Reviews at Toronto Film Festival Premiere


“Stonewall” Gets Mixed Reviews at Toronto Film Festival Premiere

Many of you remember or took part in the controversy that began with the airing of the first screener for Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” because it made it look like the whole thing was solely about a cisgender, young, pretty, white guy, and that it would remove the key contribution of trans and people of color to the 1969 riots. At that time we did not know much about the film but now it has premiered and the reviews are not so wonderful.

In a review from the “Guardian” entitled “There’s a riot going on! Pity Roland Emmerich missed it”. Reviewer Henry Barnes wrote, ‘It’s still difficult for gay cinema to pass into the mainstream. Emmerich, who put his own money into making the film, should be cheered for giving it a shot. Unfortunately the compromises he’s made leave Stonewall feeling neutered. A member of the Mattachine Society makes a speech about how gay men should assimilate. ‘Wearing a suit and tie will make them realize they’re just like you, he says’. Stonewall tries the same trick. By trying to disguise itself as a coming-of-age romance, it hides the real story underneath.”

In “Variety” Henry DeBruge said “While it’s encouraging to see such a subject treated with the same grandiosity afforded alien invasions, particularly at a moment when gay rights hold such currency, representation-starved audiences deserve more than this problematic collection of stereotypes, which lacks the galvanizing power of such recent we-shall-overcome triumphs as “Selma” or “Milk,” and won’t draw anywhere near their numbers.”

“Hollywood Reporter” review David Rooney is a bit more of a fan, although he certainly doesn’t give the movie a rave, saying, “While Stonewall hits every obvious, manipulative button with a forceful hand, it’s also consistently engaging, relating experiences grounded in the turbulent past that should resonate for many in our more complacent present. Diversity representation mostly functions as colorful window-dressing, with notes of humor pretty much confined to routine sassy attitude, and when the riot starts, the Wonder Bread lead gets to throw the first brick. But the secondary characters are treated with affection and respect, and far from sidelined during the climactic clash.”

John Hazelton said that “Stonewall almost lets its tale of a young gay man finding his way in New York City overshadow its account of the 1969 riots that give the film its title and led to the birth of the gay liberation movement. That might not have mattered if the personal story had been more satisfying, but as it is this passion project from blockbuster director Roland Emmerich… feels like a strangely squandered opportunity.”

“The Playlist” is more direct saying, ‘While Emmerich’s intentions may be pure, he lacks the delicacy, intelligence, and skill to do right by a premise rife with potential for disaster — a topic in which the man is all too well-versed… The insulting obviousness with which characters make declarations about the Change That Must Come and the Injustice That Has Been Suffered For Too Long strip the film of any potential for resonant poignancy with its intended audience. Emmerich’s freedom fighters speak not like human beings, but political mouthpieces designed to express the simplest ideas for the simplest-minded audiences.” This weekend you will be able to see for yourselves when the film opens in United States’ theaters.


“BABA JOON”— Israel’s Submission to the Oscars 2015

baba poster

“Baba Joon”

Israel’s Submission to the Oscars 2015

Amos Lassen

Yuval Delshad’s “Baba Joon” will be Israel’s submission for the Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. It won the Best Picture Ophir in Israel. Its world premiere took place recently at Toronto International Film Festival.

“Yitzhak runs the turkey farm his father built with his own two hands after they emigrated from Iran to Israel. When his son Moti turns thirteen, Yitzhak teaches him the trade, hoping that he will continue the proud family tradition. But Moti doesn’t  like working in the turkey barn; his passion is fixing up junkyard cars and bringing them back to life”.


“Moti’s mother Sarah tries to reconcile between the two, while his grandfather pushes Yitzhak to take a firm hand with his son. Yitzhak takes Moti’s refusal to work in the turkey barn as a personal rejection. Though he loves his son dearly, he makes it his mission to impose the family farm on Moti”.  


“The arrival of Darius, the uncle from America, sets off a chain of events that will undermine the familial harmony. Soon enough Yitzhak will learn that his son is just as stubborn as he is. The conflict is inevitable”.

“FIRE BIRDS”— One to Look For



One to Look For

Amos Lassen

Gila Almagor and Oded Teomi, two of the legends of Israeli cinema star in Amir Wolf’s “Firebirds”. The film has been nominated for 10 Ophir Awards, the Israeli equivalent of our Academy Awards and is now making the rounds of film festivals.


“An eighty-year-old man’s body is found with three stab wounds to the chest and a number tattooed along his forearm.  Amnon,  a police detective and second-generation Holocaust survivor, reluctantly accepts the case and struggles to bring it to a quick close. As the plot weaves between the past and present, their stories unfold.”


“In the weeks leading up to his death, Amikam (Oded Teomi), the victim, sought a ‘membership card’ to the most horrible club in the world: the club of Holocaust survivors. Despite his age he was still attractive and his charm was evident as he searched  the obituaries for widows to beguile”.


“As the story interweaves past and present, we witness each man’s struggle to rejoin the society that rejected him”.