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Letters from Jewish Australia - No.47

Israeli Dancing In Australia

By Andrea Stern

2nd May, 1997

Andrea Stern is Systems Manager at the Library, University of Sydney, who also teaches at the Folk Dance Association of Australia and whose students include the elderly and infirm - even the wheelchair bound.
"If I am beaten by the whole world, DAVKA, I will go out and dance"

M. Warshawski (1848-1907)
Yiddish poet

In many cities in the diaspara, Israeli dancing is a popular Jewish community activity usually involving Israelis as well as locals. In Australia it is particularly popular in Sydney and Melbourne, with small groups in Queensland and Canberra. New dances are learned generally from videos and dance notes from Israel, from visits to Israel and from visiting Israeli choreographers.

A modern social creation, much as the Israeli state is, in its short life Israeli dance has changed and developed just as Israeli society has. Starting as a form of nationalist expression of the Zionist movement, inextricabley linked with Zionist music, both the music and the dance were used to unify a new nation built from diversity, to help form a distinctive Israeli culture as well as to serve as a means of recreation.

Early Israeli dance was basically European in its form, with the Balkan hora at at its root. The Hora is what we traditionally dance at weddings and bar mitzvahs as a set of simple, repetitive, rhythmic steps. Israelli folk dance is not repetitive however, each dance is a separate and unique sequence of patterns of steps which needs to be memorised. Early choreographers in Israel also included dance movements and style from Israel's many Ethnic groups - Yemenite, Druze, Moroccan, Kurdish for example. This tradition carries to this day as Israeli music and dance continue to absorb influences from Israel's immigrants and neighbours.

Initially it was principally danced on Kibbutzim and moshavim and in the army. Now Israeli dance is inseparable from Israeli popular music: the dances are choreographed to that music. Israeli popular music generally falls into one of three categories: romantic; love of eretz yisrael or religious; so that when Israelis are dancing they are generally singing as well and the meaning of the songs is very much part of the dancing.

Hundreds of thousands of people do Israeli dancing every night of the week in Israel and at least 25 other countries around the world (Including China). Internationally it is popular with folkdance groups because it is fun and is a living and growing dance form. More than 2000 dances have been produced so far, with more than a hundred a year being created now. An experienced dancer typically has a repertoire of over 400 dances in his/her memory.

Frances Fester is the main leader of Israeli dancing in Sydney, teaching for the club, "Hamoadon", in Bondi.

Note: For some of the information in here, I am indebted to Edy Greenblatt's 1993 master's thesis for UCLA on "Recreational Israeli Dance as a Modern Participatory Art Form".

Andrea Stern

 

For current details on Frances Fester's Israeli dancing, see www.israelidancingsydney.com.au 


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