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October 30, 1987 - Image 40

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1987-10-30

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40

FRIDAY, OCT. 30, 1987

Dancers Seek To Recreate
Ancient Biblical Tradition

CAROL NOVIS

W

hen a recent survey
. was taken of cours-
es offered in 119
centers
community
throughout Israel, Israeli folk
dancing topped the list in
popularity. That would come
as no surprise to an increas
ing number of Israelis who
are taking part in folk dance
sessions more enthusiastical-
ly than ever before.
Shalom Hermon, the
choreographer whose folk
dances (such as "hehar-
monica") have entered the
classic repertoire and made
him an unofficial father of
Israeli folk dance, is convinc-
ed that interest is stronger
than ever. "I woudn't call it a
real revival, because folk dan-
cing was never dead, but we
are definitely seeing a real
surge of interest," he said.
Today, Hermon works for
the Israeli Department of
Education as coordinator of
dance education in schools,
but in his younger days he
was one of a small group who
invented and popularized the
cassic Israeli folk dances that
are enjoyed today all over the
world.
Ethnic dance, of course, has
been part of sIsraeli culture
since biblical times: "To
everything there is a season
. . . a time to mourn and a
time to dance," as Ec-
clesiastes notes. The Bible is
so full of references to -dance
that no fewer than 11 Hebrew
verb roots have been found
which describe dance
movements.
Dances served many pur-
poses in biblical times. They
were performed in honor of
military victory, such as after
the triumphant crossing of
the Red Sea, when Miriam
led the women in dance.
Dances also accompanied the
pronouncements of the early
prophets and some dances
were performed to facilitate
the choosing of brides: Accor-
ding to the Mishnah, on the
15th of Av, young girls in
Jerusalem donned white
dresses and danced in a circle,
while the youth of the city
observed and made their
choice of bride.
But in spite of the number
of dance references in ancient
Jewish sources, not a trace re-
mains of what these dances
were actually like. That made
it difficult when folk dance
choreographers tried to
develop a new type of dancing

which would be true to
Jewish tradition. Shalom
Hermon recalls, "Until the
1940s, there were only five
basic Israeli dances. They
were the hora, the crakoviak,
the polka, the cherkessia and
the rondo. None of them was
native to Israel."
It's difficult to believe that
the hora, the quintessential
Israeli dance, wasn't invented
in Israel, but in fact, the
dance is based on steps that
are believed to be either
Romanian or Balkan. The
hora was adopted by the
pioneers because it was an
ideal expression of their

Until the 1940s
there were only
five Israeli dances.
None was native to
Israel.

needs and beliefs; a dance
that fervent young
agricultural workers on the
first kibbutzim could dance
late into the night to refresh
themselves spiritually after a
hard day's labor. It also had
the added advantage of being
simple enough for everyone to
master and, as a dance per-
formed in a circle with link-
ed arms, it symbolized the
new ideology of Jewish
freedom and equality. The
hora became a symbol of
Israeli pioneering fervor.
New dances began to enter
the Israeli repertoire in the
1940s. The initiative came
from pioneers of dance such
as Gurit Kadman, who
organized the first folk dance
festival in 1944. Some of the
dances were adapted from in-
ternational models, while
others were developed
specifically to meet Israeli
needs.

Hermon recalls, "The idea
was to go back to biblical
sources, to the victory dances
of David and Miriam. Since
we didn't know what the
dances were like, one of the
early pioneers of dance,
Yardena Cohen, came up with
the idea of visiting Arab and
Druse villages and studying
their" dance. In those days,
many Arab villagers lived
lives which were similar to
the conditions under which
our forefathers lived, and in
the same surroundings. We
thought it possible that there
were similarities in the
dances. We took the drum

beat of the Arab and Druse
and developed dances based
on them. The debka dances
for example, come from Arab
sources. Many of the steps
characteristic of Arab dance,
such as skipping, running
and hopping, were also used."
Later, as new population
groups settled in Israel, their
dance steps were adopted by
local groups too. The
characteristic Yemenite
dance step, for example, has
become a mainstay of Israeli
folk dance. Chasidic dances,
which generate religious en-
thusiasm and -joy, have also
entered the repertoire. Other
dances reflect Kurdish and
Circassian influences.
Frequently, dances were in-
vented to reflect local condi-
tions as well as biblical prece-
dent. Hermon recalls that at
one of the first meetings of his
folk dance group in 1947, a
dance called "Debka Rafiah"
was presented. It was labell-
ed a debka because it was bas-
ed on the traditional Arab
line dance, and Rafiah
because it had been devised
by Israeli dancers in-
carcerated in Rafiah prison.
Today, people still continue
to invent new dances. "It's a
very prolific industry," Her-
mon jokes. "There are
thousands of dances."
Shalom Hermon believes
the renewed interest in
Israeli folk dancing has to do
more with spiritual ideas
than with simply the
pleasure of movement: "It
may be an unconscious desire
to return to the traditional
values of Zionism, for folk
dancing is part of the spirit of
the pioneers and of the State
of Israel."
Last year, for the first time,
35 schools sent represen-
tatives to Jerusalem for the
first National Folk Dance
Day — and this year, on May
20, the second Folk Dance
Day was held in Ramat Gan.
The first international school
folk dance festival, designed
to bring together folk dance
groups from all over the
world, is now being planned
for the end of 1987.
Today, Hermon believes that
the newer folk dances are bas-
ed more on popular culture
and less on folklore: "There
are dances today that are
clearly based on disco dance
steps and others that show
the influence of tango."
Whatever the case, Israeli
folk dancing has never been
so popular.

World Zionist Press Service

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