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From English Teaching to Clowning
- An Interview with Dorit Renov-Steinberg
by Naomi Epstein


Q: Dorit, you do so many things; you are an English teacher, an art teacher of special education, a translator specializing in architecture and a clown! With which of these careers did you begin?
A: From an early age I was interested in music and singing. English was also very important to me. I had spent part of my childhood in the United States, we spoke English at home and I made every effort to keep up my English. My interest in language and sound led me to obtain a first and second degree in Linguistics. That was when I really fell in love with the English language. When I began teaching English, first to adults, then to children, I found I had the opportunity to share my passion for the language. The tenses, for example, can be very exciting.

Q: How so?
A: Oh, the tenses can be amazing! Take the past progressive Ė itís like a mini-movie describing different actions occurring simultaneously. Itís so visual! If you can visualize it you can grasp the usage of the tense. Think of the sentence: The phone was ringing when I opened the door. I help the pupils visualize it by doing this: Dorit gets up and acts out a person trying to quickly unlock the door and answer the ringing phone.

Q: That was amazing! Iím wondering though, since you teach all ages, how do the pupils react when you do something like that?
A: Acting out the tenses makes them "come alive" for the students. But it's very important not to act silly in a way that makes them think you are trying to act childish. That aggravates the students. Itís basically the same principle I follow in clowning Ė making fun of myself is fine but I'm respectful of the audience. That's particularly important when I'm clowning at the hospital, where I volunteer.

Q: Since you are so animated when you teach, did you begin clowning shortly after becoming a teacher?
A: {Laughs} Oh no! That happened after 33 years of teaching! People often ask me about my age Ė they aren't used to seeing a 60-year-old energetic clown! Clowning is extremely energizing!

Q: So how did you begin?
A: Well, I've always been drawn to clowns; I would often clown for Purim events. Two years ago I took a course in "Clinical Clowning" and in "Physical Theatre", which is theatre clowning. That's a different form of clowning because you are a creator, not just a performer. Theatre Clowning is more subtle than the kind of clowning I do when I volunteer at the hospital. I soon realized that I had found something which I loved, and studying it helped me make a personal journey Ė I have become a person who is much more open. I also travelled to Locarno, Switzerland, to study at a "Master School" for Theatre Clowning, which was an incredible experience. Over the past year I've begun performing.

Q: I know you are also an art teacher of special education. When did you begin that career?
A: Everyone thought I would go on to take my P.H.D. in linguistics. Instead, I went to the Art Teachersí College ("Ha Midrasha"). For many years I worked with adults with C.P or who were mentally challenged (in addition to my English classes). Art is a wonderful thing for people with special needs and it was an amazing experience to work with these people. I still work with a small number of people today.

Q: But I know you use art with the students who come to you to learn English too!
A: Oh! I use everything! Music, Art and LOTS and LOTS of games. Many students I meet have had bad experiences with English, and I try to find the medium that helps them change their perception of English as a threatening thing.

Q: On top of all that, you translate articles in the field of architecture! Is there anything else you haven't told me?
A: Well, at the age of 19 I became the youngest female pilot of small civilian aircraft. After a few years of flying though, it became difficult to incorporate that into my life and I took up bird watching instead.

Q: Do you ever sleep? I know your two dogs and two cats also demand your attention!
A: {Laughs} Remember, I told you clowning is very energizing!

Dorit, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Best of luck with your new clowning career and everything else you do!

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