Dancer-choreographer and writer, Leslie Friedman has been praised by critics and audiences on four continents. Honors include the Dean Goodman Choice Award for Best Solo Performance and the Selma Jeanne Cohen Award for International Dance Scholarship–the first ever given. She was selected as Artist in Residence at the Creativity Center, Midland, MI, where she created a dance quartet for String Quartet No. 2 by Charles Ives. It was premiered in Midland’s performing arts center, and in Palo Alto and San Francisco. In 2017, Sangam Arts honored her for being a Pioneer of World Dance in recognition of her extensive world wide performance tours and her dedication to presenting dances of many traditions in the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley of which she is Founder and Artistic Director. She is the recipient of two Fulbrights: the Fulbright Lectureship to India, and the Fulbright Senior Lectureship to Bulgaria. The American Institute for Indian Studies/Smithsonian Institution awarded her a Research Fellowship to India.
Leslie’s career includes a long list of “Firsts:” First American dancer to perform, choreograph and teach in China with sponsorship of the US State Dept. and the Chinese national ballet academies; First American artist to perform in public in Moscow and Leningrad with joint US/USSR sponsorship after a 14-year suspension of cultural exchanges; First American to perform, choreograph, and teach with official US/host government sponsorship in Spain, Hungary, Romania, Poland, Egypt, Tunisia, Sri Lanka, India and others. Her performances were cheered by audiences and critics alike; she was invited back to perform, choreograph, and teach in each locale. She has also performed to great acclaim in Canada, England, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Monaco, Switzerland, Scotland.
She performed extensively throughout India while there as a Fulbright Lecturer. In 1997, she was the only American to perform in the International Baltic Ballet Festival, in Riga, Latvia, along with the Royal Swedish, Royal Danish, Bolshoi, and Maryinsky (Kirov) Ballets.
She was awarded the Fulbright Senior Lectureship to create a new theater/dance work for the National Academy of Theater & Film, Sofia, Bulgaria.
Leslie Friedman’s choreography has been set on companies in China, England, Poland, Romania, South Korea, as well as in the US.
Her extensive tours in the US include performances of HEROIC, BELOVED her program of dances about women, in five states at multiple universities and arts centers in each state.
She was a finalist for the Isadora Duncan Awards in Outstanding Solo Performance and in Choreography for a Full Program (BAT TALES).
She created and produced the first Holidays concert which honors the many diverse holidays near the end of the calendar year. She choreographed, wrote, and danced in this groundbreaking production which was produced annually in San Francisco and other Northern Californian cities beginning in 1994.
She created and produced the first concert to honor Women’s History Month with dances about historic women – Harriet Tubman, Clara Schumann, the Bronte Sisters, and more – with music or text by women.
She created and produced The Gold Rush! a featured program for San Francisco’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of The Gold Rush. The program includes music popular in the Gold Rush era, projections of archival photographs and paintings depicting life in the Gold Rush, narrations taken from letters written in the mining fields, costumes of the era, and original dances. Performed for the general public, it has served as an entertaining educational centerpiece for schools from San Jose to Marin County.
Leslie and her company of dancers and singer-banjo player, Jonathan Clark, performed The Gold Rush!, The Festival of Lights, and Bat Tales ( a very pro-bat performance) for an average of 2,000 students and educators annually.
She has performed the work of Alvin Ailey, Jennifer Muller, Kathy Posin, Cliff Keuter, Shela Xoregos under their direction, and historic dances by Ruth St. Denis. Charles Weidman, Jose Limon. Vitale Fokine, ballet director, choreographer, and son of the choreographer of Les Sylphides, selected her and coached her to perform The Waltz in Les Sylphides. She was offered scholarships to the Alvin Ailey School and Martha Graham School’s professional training program.
Her writing on history and the arts has been published in the US, France, India, and Poland. Her stories and poetry are performed as part of dance/theater productions. Her play, The Panel, won recognition awards in the Marin Festival of One Acts in categories of Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Play. The Panel became the first act of the full length play, The Arts Community. The Exhibitionist and The Curtain, Acts II and V have been presented over Zoom. She is the author of two natural history books: The Dancer’s Garden, published in May, 2019, and The Story of Our Butterflies: Mourning Cloaks in Mountain View, 2021. She is co-editor of The Hedgehog, the international arts review.
Leslie’s serious dance training began at age eight, directed by Madame Victoria Cassan, an Englishwoman who had been a soloist in Anna Pavlova’s legendary touring company. As an adult, Leslie studied at the Alvin Ailey School in New York, where she was offered a scholarship, at the Martha Graham School, which invited her to its professional training class, and with Margaret Jenkins and Gus Solomons, Jr. (Cunningham technique). Merce Cunningham selected her to work with him to learn video for dance.
Her service to the field of dance includes National Endowment for the Arts site visitor; Isadora Duncan awards panelist (first year of awards) ; Theatre Bay Area CA$H grant panelist. She was President of the Board of Directors of Dance Bay Area, the largest service organization for dance, Northern California.
She served as Co-Director of LEGACY, an organization dedicated to creating oral histories of dance artists, especially those suffering from AIDS.
In 2012, she founded the International Dance Festival@Silicon Valley. The Festival offers open master classes in a variety of movement practices, presents concerts of premiere works, and conducts the annual Choreography Competition. The Awardees of the competition present their winning work in the Festival Concerts. Through the years, IDF@SV has presented Afro-Haitian, Mexican Folclorico, Circus art, Irish, Polish, Samba, Salsa, Tango, several forms of classical Indian dance, classical Chinese, Korean, Waltz, and tap, ballet, Physical Comedy, Pilates, contemporary dance.
Leslie has taught modern dance, improvisation & composition, and contemporary ballet: Reed College; Washington University in St. Louis; University of Michigan; University of Rochester; Ballet Rambert, London; Conservatory of Dance, Tunis; Royal Conservatory, Madrid; National Ballet of Hungary; the three national ballets of China, and many other national academies and schools around the world. Please contact The Lively Foundation for more details.
Leslie’s community activities are especially focused on conservation of the natural world. She is active in several local organizations: Livable Mountain View, GreenspaceMV; and state and national organizations: Save the Redwoods League, Defenders of Wildlife, and Center for Biological Diversity. She served as President of the National Council of Jewish Women – SF, an organization dedicated to the well being of women and children of any religion or ethnicity. The San Francisco branch works to protect victims of human trafficking and to coordinate help of city and police for trafficked individuals.
In an earlier life, Leslie earned a Ph.D., in Modern British History, at Stanford and taught there and at Vassar, her alma mater, and Case Western Reserve University before leaving her tenure track position in academia to return to dance. She continued to dance while a historian and has continued to write history while dancing.