When I walked into the sweaty dance studio at Queens College, an instructor was shouting into a microphone. “Ooh-pah!” he said to what appeared to be a crowd of over 50s. “Start from the right: right and left and one and back and one and back… Raise your left hand!”
Rolled belly and twisted hips. The clapping, swirling, and uninhibited vines reminded me of my days as an Israeli dance teacher at a summer camp. Sure, it wasn’t Camp Ben Frankel in Carbondale, Illinois, but I was ready to step up nonetheless. How hard could that be?
The workshop I attended was part of the Horati Festival, organized by the New York-based Israel Dance Institute, which brought together the greatest of Israeli choreography in what has been dubbed “the world exhibition of Israeli folk dance”. In fact, 16 years had passed since the last such gathering on Long Island. At this year’s event, which took place this past weekend, hundreds of dancers from across the United States and beyond, including Chile, Australia and, of course, Israel, enjoyed performances and have participated in workshops themselves.
Given my dance training, I felt well prepared to eifo eifo, hippopotamus hippopotamus with the best of them. But I was surprised when I showed up for a class given by world-renowned Israeli choreographer Yaron Elfasy: I could barely keep up with the other dancers, who had been training since 9:30 a.m., and were in lockdown. . So I devised a strategy to follow the most confident people in front of the room. And so, duringHachi Yisraeli(“The most Israeli”), I followed Lorraine Cohn and Judy Friedman, sisters from Long Island, whose parents were square dancers. They told me after class that they had been dancing for almost 50 years. “We’ve been dancing since we were in the womb,” Friedman said.
Cohn and Friedman said they were having a good time. They had learned from famous Israeli choreographers Israel Yakovee and Moshiko Halevy. They also trained with Galgal Ba’ma’agal, a wheelchair folk dance troupe – one of three performing groups visiting New York for the weekend – who taught the sisters how to dance with wheelchair users (customized, rotating 360 degrees). .
Matan Schecter, a 23-year-old Israeli dance teacher from Rockville, Maryland, and likely one of the youngest at the convention, said Israeli folk dancing is “kind of a weird hobby” but he loves this form of art because of what it represents: the land of Israel, a mixture of cultures, such as Yemeni, Kurdish and Eastern European traditions, and the heritage of the first kibbutz in Israel. Folk dancing also has its roots in the Bible and the Talmud.
Like Cohn and Friedman, Schecter appreciates the power of Israeli folk dancing to bring people together, calling its practice “an integrated Jewish social community wherever you go.”
Every evening after the workshops were over, dance novices and professionals showed off their moves at parties that continued into the wee hours of the night. “Tonight it could last until 3 or 4 a.m.,” Friedman said. “Some people stay all night.
Schecter joked, “They ended at 1:30 or 2 a.m. Maybe some people here consider it all night… I would really like to go later.