Tradition Meets Recreation, Passover and Israeli Dancing - Gainesville Sun 060413
Tonight, as Jewish families enjoy the Passover seder, dance
floors at Congregation B'nai Israel and the University of
Florida's Reitz Union are empty. But on any other given
Thursday evening, Israeli dancing sweeps across those spaces.
Dances at B'Nai also are held on Tuesday evenings, and
additional dances are Wednesdays at Hillel Student Center and
Sundays at the Gainesville Dance and Music Association
building. Area Israeli dance teachers include Jackie Ginzburg,
Tony Royal and Andrew Weitzen.
Weitzen, who has studied Israeli dance for 15 years, leads the
Sunday dances as well as the Thursday B'Nai Israel group.
Little kids, college kids and the young-at-heart participate.
"What is recognized as the first Israeli folk dance was
created in the 1920s," Weitzen says. "People have danced in
festivals for decades, but it was about 25 years ago that
Israeli dancing became extremely popular. There was an
explosion that brought the traditional folk dances to a new
generation, and that process now continues."
One need not be Jewish to appreciate the energetic and
contemporary feel of these circle, line and couple dances.
Israeli folk dance is a rather secular, modern and extremely
popular recreational pastime in Israel, where participants at
a dance sometimes exceed 1,000.
Israeli dance's popularity is second highest in Australia,
followed by the United States. Israeli dance is enjoyed
throughout Europe and the South and Central Americas. At a
recent GDMA dance, I met a woman who, in preparation for an
upcoming vacation, researched the Israeli dance scene in
Each dance is set to one respective song.
"You could go anywhere in the world, and if you went out and
heard a certain song, the dance would be the same," says local
therapist and avid dancer Arlene Bargad.
The music can be traditional or current and is from all over
the world. Lyrics may be from ancient scripture; much of the
music draws from pioneering songs from the state of Israel's
seminal days. Most are sung in Hebrew, but many have been
translated from Arabic, French, Spanish or Turkish originals.
The musical forms, from so many cultures, thus include
(American) western swing, mazurkas, polkas and Latin rhythms
such as salsa.
"Like the U.S., Israel is a melting pot," explains Bargad, who
once lived in Israel. "Israeli dancing has followed the
cultural development of the country."
This is evident in the steps themselves.
"The steps draw from Greek, Arabic, Russian and Turkish dance
influences," explains Santa Fe Community College student Tim
Jahn, who has been Israeli dancing for four years.
As Jahn demonstrates a dance to an Iranian song, it is clear
the dances draw from American pop culture as well. While his
feet follow a pattern common in Greek and Turkish dance,
Jahn's upper body, clad in a T-shirt with a Coca-Cola logo in
Hebrew, pops and locks like a seasoned street breaker.
Today in Israel, before a pop song is even released, the
singer will request a choreographer to create its dance piece.
Choreographers must be certified in Israel, and new dances
must be officially registered in their names. Hundreds of
dances come out each year, but only a few make it into the
popular canon. There are more than 5,000 dances and some 350
Steps range from the "grapevine," Broadway's old faithful, to
"balance," which derived from French social dances. There is a
step called "Yemenite" and another called "debka" (Arabic for
"Israeli dancing provides a cultural connection," says Bargad.
"It is great exercise; the Tuesday night group has
collectively lost a lot of weight. But it is also a wonderful
way to develop a sense of community."
E-mail Sarah Ingley at