Helen Lewis; Shadows Behind the Dance

27th January, 2023

Memoir telling incredible story of Belfast dancer and Auschwitz survivor Helen Lewis launched on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Book cover of Shadows Behind the Dance Maddy Tongue. The cover features a black and white portrait of dancer Helen Lewis holding a teddy bear.

The new book Helen Lewis; Shadows Behind the Dance, launched on Fri Jan 27th 2023 (International Holocaust Memorial Day), is Maddy Tongue’s heartfelt portrait of the dancer Helen Lewis (1916 – 2009, née Helena Katz), who survived Auschwitz to teach dance in Belfast. This beautifully presented book is published by Irish Pages Press/Cló An Mhíl Bhuí, the winner of the 2022 British Book Awards Small Press of the Year (Island of Ireland) and supported by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

More than simply a dancer’s biography, the new book is a stunning collection of memoir, history, poetry and art, from significant contributors who knew Helen Lewis in her lifetime and held her dear.

Helen Lewis’ own acclaimed memoir published in 1997 (A Time to Speak, Blackstaff Press), told the story of the first thirty years of her life in Czechoslovakia, from childhood to her professional training as a choreographer and dancer. It also detailed her devastating account of Nazi persecution, of loss and suffering in the Holocaust: Helen came very close to death.

Maddy Tongue in Helen Lewis: Shadows Behind the Dance (The Irish Pages Press, 2002) now completes the post-war story of this extraordinary woman who overcame unimaginable suffering to become a creative force in Ireland. The author’s friendship with Helen Lewis lasted for more than fifty years. As a dancer Maddy performed in many of Helen’s significant works and in this book, she describes Helen’s creative approach, her struggle to overcome an Irish indifference to modern dance, her pursuit of perfection and her unshakeable belief in humanity. In Ireland today the presence of modern dance owes much to Helen Lewis’s innovative teaching and practice. Helen Lewis; Shadows Behind the Dance is supplemented with Chris Agee’s 2002 interview with Helen, “An Irish Epilogue”.

Agee said, 

“Maddy’s book is a piece of exceptional literary content and a major reflection of the post war cultural landscape in Belfast. I had the pleasure of meeting Helen Lewis myself and I find Maddy’s story of her struggle to develop modern dance in the aftermath of war in Europe highly moving. This book and others in The Irish Pages Press stable are bringing great quality writing and essays from Belfast and Northern Ireland, to many more people on these islands and internationally – it’s one of the primary, long-term aims of both The Irish Press and its Journal.” 

The book includes five Holocaust poems by Michael Longley and drawings by Sarah Longley (who was a pupil of Helen’s). Helen’s sons, Robin and Michael, have also written a Foreword. Shadows behind the Dance has been generously funded through subscription by family, friends, colleagues and admirers of the unforgettable Helen Lewis.

Helen Lewis; Shadows behind the Dance will be launched on International Holocaust Memorial Day Friday Jan 27th at 4:30pm at the Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast: For free tickets visit