Keeping Dance Alive
New Festival Dancers continue under new director.
Esther Allweiss Ingber
Special to the Jewish News
Shaarey Zedek in Southfield.
"Dance is a very meaningful and spiri-
tual addition to religious worship," she said.
he Festival Dancers, an institution
woven into the fabric of Detroit's
cultural life, is continuing at the
Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan
Detroit under a new director. Harriet Berg,
the celebrated teacher/choreographer who
founded the dance troupe in 1966, chose
Rochelle Morais to succeed her at the
beginning of the 2010 season.
"Rochelle has all the qualities I was look-
ing for to carry on this unique organiza-
tion," Berg said. "She is a beautiful dancer,
has an extensive knowledge of all aspects of
Jewish dance, and sets a shining example as
a creative and disciplined leader."
Reflecting this changing of the guard,
the semi-professional company has been
renamed the New Festival Dancers, but
Morais of Farmington Hills said its purpose
remains the same: "to perform and keep
alive the dances of our Jewish heritage."
For 43 years, Berg's Festival Dancers
excelled at presenting Israeli and traditional
Jewish folkdance with elements of contem-
porary and modern dance. They performed
at the JCC and throughout Metro Detroit
as well as participating in workshops for
teaching and preserving the dances.
Berg of Detroit, now artistic adviser,
compares the New Festival Dancers' reper-
toire to the braided Havdalah candle.
"The 'strands' represent dances originat-
ing in different parts of the Jewish world:'
she said. They are "Eastern European"
for Ashkenazi; "Yemenite" for the bibli-
cal era; "Israeli" for the last 50 years; and
"Sephardic/Ladino" for the lesser-known
dances of Spain and Arabic lands in the
In addition to Morais, members of the
New Festival Dancers are Karen Burstein
of Farmington Hills, Marci Iwrey of Walled
Lake and Tessa Goldberg and Cheryl Litt,
both of West Bloomfield. Goldberg and
Litt are the only new members.
The women all have other dance inter-
ests. Litt teaches Israeli dancing Thursday
nights at the JCC of Washtenaw County in
Ann Arbor. Iwrey, known professionally
as "Mambo Marci" (www.mambomarci.
corn), is a Latin dance instructor at the
West Bloomfield JCC. Goldberg, executive
director at Congregation Beth Ahm in
West Bloomfield, has a dance background
in ballet, Flamenco, Israeli dancing and,
most recently, Salsa. She trained with Berg
New Festival Dancers, clockwise from top left: Karen Burstein, Cheryl Litt, Marci
lwrey, Tessa Goldberg and Rochelle Morals.
a number of years ago at some Festival
Following Her Passion
New director Morals was born in South
Africa (as was Goldberg) and came with
her family to Toronto at age 8. She also
lived in Israel, Cincinnati and Rochester,
N.Y., before moving to Michigan four years
ago when her husband, Rabbi Robert
Morals, became director of education at
Temple Israel. They have four children.
Morals took ballet lessons as a child and
studied dance through the Margaret Morris
Movement. She first tried Israeli dancing as
a kid at a Jewish day school and has come
back to it for the last nine years.
When Morais joined the Festival
Dancers three years ago, membership was
dwindling and Berg's involvement had
lessened as she tended her ill and now-
deceased husband, Irving.
"I wanted to find a way to keep the
group alive said Morais, who teamed with
Iwrey, Berg's administrative assistant for
10 years, to hold rehearsals and maintain
the precious choreography.
"Let's just rehearse and see when people
can perform:' Morais said. "When they
can, great. If not, let's not worry about it."
Morals said she's interested in taking
recent Jewish dances already choreographed
for recreational and social dancing and
adapting them to the stage. She and the oth-
ers also enjoy doing their own choreography.
Their creative process involves using
"some of what's out there as a starting
inspiration to get new choreography
going:' Morals said. "If we like the music
or a particular dance and think it would
make a good performance piece, we'll start
improvising to the music."
Her two favorite dances she has intro-
duced into the group's rich repertory are
an Israeli dance, "Tzel Midbar," which
means "desert shade and "Klezmer," a
classic piece of Eastern European Jewish
music. Morais rearranged them both for
Coming up, the dancers are working
on a new piece where "we're each taking
a solo that speaks to us as individuals:'
Morals said. "We're also looking at the
Israeli dance music that's already out
there. Karen Burstein, whose background
is in ballet and modern dance, is very
interested in prayer and dance, so we want
to do some pieces set to prayers."
"Festival Dancers have a well-grounded
reputation in as far as they are one of the
few groups performing liturgical dance
said Berg, adding that she's pleased with
the direction the group is pursuing.
Locally, the dancers have performed dur-
ing Friday night services at Temple Israel
in West Bloomfield, Temple Emanu-El in
Bloomfield Township, Congregation Beth
Shalom in Oak Park and Congregation
The Public Spotlight
Meer Jewish Federation Apartments,
Shaarey Zedek and other community
venues have presented the New Festival
Dancers this winter. On March 21, the
troupe performed and taught Israeli folk-
dances to teens and young adults attending
a national conference for Humanistic Jews
at Butzel Conference Center in Ortonville.
Morals said the dancers are excited about
doing more public performances when
the new stage opens at the JCC in West
Bloomfield. The Berman theater construc-
tion project was announced last June at the
JCC's tribute to Harriet Berg. The afternoon
featured an exhibition of memorabilia from
Berg's more than 50 years of artistic activity
at the JCC — teaching dance classes and
founding both the Festival Dancers, who
performed at the tribute, and the Young
Dancers Guild. The Carolyn Dorfman Dance
Company, led by a Berg student formerly
of Detroit, also performed. The Berg family
presented an original sculpture by Irving
Berg, "The Family',' for the new theater.
Berg remains artistic director of the
Madame Cadillac Dancers, who perform
dances from early Detroit. She's also artis-
tic director for Dance Through History, a
new company that performs dances popu-
lar in the 16th-20th centuries.
The New Festival Dancers hold 90-min-
ute rehearsals most Sunday afternoons
at the West Bloomfield JCC. The dancers
remain a high-energy group with a flexible
schedule because the troupe is comprised
of busy working mothers.
That was always the case, according to
Berg. "Dance is too important to be limited
to the young. Mature dancers have so much
depth and knowledge to bring to the arts"
Morals said the New Festival Dancers
are encouraging men who enjoy Israeli
dancing to join them, too.
"If someone is interested, we'd love for
them to check us out and see what we're
doing:' Morals said. "If they have some
kind of dance background, it would be
wonderful. With more dancers, we can do
more exciting choreography." ❑
To book the New Festival Dancers, contact
Heidi Budaj, JCC director of arts, culture and
education, at (248) 432-5466 or hbudaj@