Israeli Dance Article

Do the Yemenite to your feet’s content
By Sandy Cohen


There's a lot more to Israeli dancing than 'the hora' and 'Hava Nagila.'

In fact, there are thousands of Israeli dance tunes and hundreds of dances. Now local fans of the folk dance style can do the Yemenite step and the double Cherkessiya in the South Bay, thanks to Rancho Palos Verdes dance devotee Jason Hecht.

Hecht, who has studied and taught Israeli dancing all over Los Angeles, has brought his steps and countless songs to Congregation Ner Tamid in Rancho Palos Verdes for a month's worth of classes. A resurgence may not be far behind.

'You don't have to be Jewish to do this. Folk dancing is for everyone,' said Hecht, 32. 'Some of the dances are hundreds of years old. We want to keep some of the old, traditional things alive. And it looks like it's picking up again.'

Israeli dance classes in Los Angeles and Long Beach draw hundreds of dancers each night, Hecht said.

Part of the appeal is that Israeli dancing, like other types of folk dancing, is ages old yet constantly evolving. New dances are being choreographed all the time, while old dances are taught to a new generation of fans. There are dance marathons, dance camps and
all-night social events. Folk dancing offers its own social network.

'There's a class every night somewhere,' said Arlene Greengard, a Torrance resident who takes Israeli dance classes three times a week. 'It's good to start something (locally) and allow it to build. It's different and it's fun. Most of the time you don't need a partner. I've got a husband who doesn't dance.'

Like other folk dances, many Israeli dances are performed in a line or in a circle, instead of in pairs.

Several students at Hecht's Tuesday night class said they learned Israeli dancing when they were children but hadn't performed the steps in years. Yet when those familiar Hebrew songs played, it seemed their feet remembered just what to do.

Karen Polan of Rancho Palos Verdes hadn't done any folk dancing since she lived in Israel in 1973. She surprised herself during the first Tuesday class with how much she remembered and how much she enjoyed it.

'When I see people dance or when I dance, I see spirits raised, morale raised and the spirit of community,'
she said. 'Hearing the different music is inspiring and broadening.'

The Israeli dance community is larger than one might think. There are weekend-long dance camps held
all over the country and Israeli dance fans all over the world.

'In Japan and China, they just eat it up,' Hecht said. 'They'll learn 30 to 40 dances in a weekend.'

Folk dancers worldwide connect and share music through the computer, Hecht said. There are scores of Web
sites devoted to folk dance happenings, and software programs that make finding the right music as easy as clicking the mouse.

'All the music we ever need is at our fingertips in three seconds or less,' said Hecht, a professional Web-page designer and office assistant. 'More than 95 percent of instructors are using the computer now (for music). It can be customized for any type of dancing.'

Further piquing dancers' interests are new arrangements of traditional songs. The computer makes it easy for instructors and musicians to share their latest discoveries. And it's far easier than finding the recordings on vinyl or CD and shipping them around the world.

An obvious appeal of folk dancing is the connection with culture — your own or one from across the globe.

'You can go to any city anywhere and find a place to dance,' Hecht said. 'It's spiritual and it's our culture. It's part of our history.'

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    Publish Date: Sunday February 17, 2002