Israeli Folkdance

Traditional dances find new values.

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Perhaps the most well-known of these early folkdances is Mayim Mayim (Water, Water), created by dancer Ilse Dubon in the late 1930s, when water was discovered at Kibbutz Na'an. Gurit Kadman's folkdance creations include Yasem Midbar Le'Agam Mayim (He'll Turn Desert Into Lake, 1944) and Etz Harimon (The Pomegranate Tree, 1948)--whose titles allude to their themes of Israeli agriculture productivity. Rivka Sturman, one of Israel's most prolific and successful folk dance creators, produced countless other classics including Kuma Eha (Rise Up, Brother, 1945), Dodi Li (My Beloved is for Me, 1948), and Zemer Atik (Ancient Song, 1955).

What about the newer folkdances? Contemporary Israeli folkdances rely on the same basic elements as the dances composed by such choreographers as Dubon, Kadman, and Sturman. The formula that experts believe has preserved and will continue to preserve Israeli folkdances is a balancing of continuity and change; a balance necessary for the preservation of any tradition and folklore.

Musical Trends

For example, the songs used in folkdance today are very different from the songs of the past. Gone are the references to shepherds, camels, and herds of old. But newer songs still continue to express love for the country and its beautiful landscape, and love for all living things.

Some of the new songs called "Mediterranean Pop" are a mixture of Greek, Turkish, and Arabic music. Despite their eclectic background, these songs are not removed from the hopes and anxieties of Israelis. And in spite of a shallowness in their language and banal themes, many of these songs express the old desire to be Israeli and experience "normality"--with a new awareness that there is no consensus about what it actually means to be Israeli or to be normal.

Old Dances, New Dances

An abundance of new dances also reflects both continuity and change. Dancers today are used to constant stimulation; they resent stagnation and they produce new dances at a frenzied rate. The fact that in recent years a not-for-profit movement, Reyim, was founded to preserve the old Israeli folkdances, combined with special evenings devoted to "old circle dances," proves that dancers feel the need to preserve the basic roots of their art. The past evokes a variety of relevant memories that help dancers deal with their present and future.

And of course, nostalgia is not strictly an expression of old people. Some young people are also intrigued by the past. They want to know what their parents felt and believed, and they want to experience what they consider to be primary and basic feelings.

Combining Continuity and Change

Today some dance instructors manage to capitalize on both the elements of continuity and change in Israeli folkdance by teaching old folkdances in an atmosphere of liberation, ecstasy, enthusiasm, and relaxation--the same atmosphere that draws young people to dance clubs.

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Dr. Dan Ronen

Dr. Dan Ronen is one of Israel's leading theatre scholars, with experience teaching, researching, writing, and directing Jewish theatre in Israel and abroad.