“Frankly, this whole pseudonym thing is becoming a bit burdensome,” said Ruth Grill of Hastings, who published her memoir, “Davka: I Will Dance,” this past November under the pen name Naomi Silver.
In a blurb on the back cover, Genese Grill described her mother’s book as being “a memoir by a hidden child of the Holocaust who discovers a passion for ballroom dancing and tango in her late 60s. The narrative shifts back and forth between the more recent 20 years of dancing (from ages 62 to 82) and older memories from childhood, adolescence, and adulthood in Europe and the United States.”
The more recent memories include the joys of dancing at the New York Dance Center in Ardsley, the dance partners and lovers she had along the way, and the glamour of the costumes, including a hot-pink skirt, bustier, and boa.
The 83-year-old divorcee has lived in Hastings for 48 years. She retired from her private psychotherapy practice in her 70s. Daughters Genese Grill, a Vermont resident, and Simone Ellin, who lives in Maryland, graduated from Hastings’ Farragut Middle School and the high school.
As for the pseudonym, Grill chose “Naomi Silver” because she liked the way it sounded. Though she changed the names of the people mentioned in the book, and often disguised their appearances, she admitted, “There are one or two who would not like what I’ve written, so I changed my name to protect the not so innocent.” She is now comfortable talking about herself as the author because she is convinced the two who would be most offended will never know about the book.
Grill tells her life story in a series of vignettes, a style developed and helped by the “Writing From the Heart” classes she took at the Dobbs Ferry Public Library. The title, she explained, “is the Yiddish word for ‘in spite of,’ as in ‘in spite of this or that’ I’m going to do it anyway. So, davka of everything that happened in my life, I am going to dance.”
Grill was born to Jewish parents in East Prussia in 1937. Her youngest years are chronicled in the book “The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust” by Jane Marks.
“We managed to get to Belgium in the early days of the war, but of course the Nazi’s soon occupied that country, too. I was 5 and spoke only German. This was dangerous for all of us, so my parents put me in a convent. I was very traumatized,” Grill recalled. “Then we managed to hide out with people in the countryside. And somehow we survived. We emigrated to the U.S. in 1948.”
In New York, Grill’s parents “did what you had to do.” Her mother cleaned homes while her father studied to become a doctor. Grill graduated from Brandeis University with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature, and from Columbia with a master’s degree in French literature. She married, moved to Hastings, and was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years.
“But my goal was always to go into psychotherapy, so I returned to school, earning a master’s degree in social work at Fordham, and a post-master’s from Hunter College,” Grill said. “Before starting a private practice here, I worked at several institutions including a residential treatment center in Nyack and a mental health clinic in Connecticut.”
Throughout her life, Grill was entranced by the movement and mechanics of dance. That interest was fueled in part by her father, who “was said to be the best waltzer in Berlin.” One of the images on the cover of Grill’s memoir shows her dancing with her father.
“A number of years ago, I saw an article in The Rivertowns Enterprise about Dmitri and Svetlana Ostashkin and their New York Dance Center. I held onto the clipping for a year or two before signing up. They are wonderful teachers. And this changed my life,” Grill said.
“At first I shared the cost with a partner who attended classes with me,” she continued. “Now I go on my own and also take private lessons. It became an obsession. Of course, the classes and showcase presentations are now on hold because of Covid, and I can’t wait for them to start up again.”
Grill likes all styles of dance — swing, foxtrot, two-step, waltz — and has become a devotee of the Argentine tango.
“This I will say about my book — I’m a very serious person and there are serious parts included, but I think some of the book is funny, too,” Grill noted. “You are who you are and you have to choose. Before learning to ballroom dance, I wasn’t very assertive, confident, or decisive. Dance makes you decisive. You have to look your partner in the eye, and as Dmitri says, you can’t dance with both feet on the floor, you have to put one in motion.”
“I use Ruth as an example all the time as a success story,” Dmitri Ostashkin said. “When she first came to us she wasn’t that strong and she said she had difficulty remembering all the steps. Ruth is now a stronger person, physically and mentally. She remembers everything. And I’ll tell you something else. She has not missed one of our showcase presentations. She performed after surgeries on her shoulder, her eyes, and her toes. She makes her life interesting.”
“Davka: I Will Dance” is available from Lulu and from Amazon.