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In the Slippers Corner with Moshe Telem Adi & Atara 9.3.11 

“I, Moshe Telem, am following in my furrow…” (Telem means furrow)

This time we met with one of the most veteran and most famous dance instructors in the world of folk dancing, Moshe Telem. We have always regarded Moshe Telem as one of the most radical dance instructors; he is imbued with a love of Israel, of working on the land and everything that is good and beautiful in our country, including a world concept of collectivism, the love of man and helping one's fellowman. This concept accompanied us even before we spoke with him in depth and before we saw his character up close. This feeling only intensified after our conversation with him. We learned that this is really a genuine person who earns his living from agriculture and who does his work with great love. But, we get the impression that his love of folk dancing is no less and perhaps even exceeds his love of his daily work. Moshe Telem is a farmer with the soul of a dancer, who loves folk dancing without any reservations.

Moshe, tell us a bit about yourself.

From my childhood I was educated on the knees of the working settlement. Until the present day, I earn my living from agricultural work on my farm on Moshav Rishpon. As a child I became aware of folk dancing. The first dance instructor I danced with was Uzi Adoram who led the dancing in Rishpon. I was wounded by five bullets but, after a two year recovery period, I went back to dancing. After I completed my military service with Nahal paratroopers, and at the encouragement of Yoav Ashriel, I trained to be a qualified folk dance instructor. I should point out that Yossi Abuhov, Tamar Eligor and others were also in the course at that time. I began to teach folk dancing to youth and my accordionist was Eitan Oren. I continued to teach folk dancing for several years in Israel and in seminars abroad. I served in very important positions in the dance instructors organization, including the positions of treasurer and chairman of the organization. I always took care to follow my own path, with my internal truth, which was not always universally accepted.

What characterizes you as a dance instructor?

I am very organized in my work and I take it very seriously. My duty as a dance instructor is to do everything and to give everything, so that at the end of the session the dancers go home with a feeling of complete satisfaction and in high spirits. You must remember that a folk dance evening is a social occasion, but one which is associated with the love of the Land of Israel. I take care to convey the messages concerning the love of the country in sessions not only in Israel but also in the camps I take part in abroad. I attach great importance to paying attention to the people, the music, folklore, and insure that the dancers are being fully rewarded for their expectations and the entrance fees they pay.

You must understand that the dancers come to a session in order to enjoy themselves and not to suffer volume which is too loud or music which is played in a manner which is inconsistent with the dancers' expectations. To my great sorrow there is a general feeling that folk dancing is becoming leisure dancing and losing its Israeli identity and the culture in which it grew and developed. Without doubt there are excellent dance instructors today who do good work, but they are not absolutely connected to the values which many other dance instructors, including myself, grew up on. Unfortunately, I am unable to connect to a Turkish melody to which an Israeli folk dance has been linked. In my opinion, the direction and boundaries have become blurred; I cannot say that I like the direction to which some of the dance instructors are presently pulling.

You are perceived by the dancers as a radical and authentic dance instructor. How do you get along with the digital age and the new equipment?

In my opinion this is a very positive thing, since this enables extraordinary maneuverability and unquestionable control over the music and volume level. It is very important not to make the dancers go deaf because the volume is too loud. It has happened more than once, that I go to a session and I am actually forced to use earplugs; otherwise it is simply intolerable. It is very important that my fellow dance instructors take care in this matter and show the appropriate sensitivity. I want to point out that in my opinion it is worthwhile and desirable to use more real musical instruments and less electronic music which is processed on digital and electronic equipment.

Try to compare teaching and leading dances as it was then and as it is now.

In the past, there were not any sophisticated technical methods like there are today. We would go to a seminar to teach the words of the song and write the dance steps in text. In the past, we would spend a whole hour as opposed to ten minutes today. At one time, it was very important to first of all teach the words of the song and to make a connection between the words and the music and finally the steps. To this very day when I create a dance, I take great care to express in the steps of the dance the same parts which are expressed by the words. If for example the word drum is mentioned, I express a drum by means of stamping the foot. (Here Moshe stands in the sitting room of his home, invites Atara and starts to dance and demonstrate together with her the connection between the words of the songs and the steps which were choreographed to them). Previously, it was necessary to prove that the dance met all the criteria and expectations; for example, it was not possible to create an Israeli folk dance to Turkish or Irish music.
The person who over the years made the selection, set boundaries and blocked the possibility of breaking the rules, in order to preserve the folk dances as authentic and connected with an unbreakable bond to Israeli culture, was Yoav Ashriel.

Where and how in your opinion did the break and carrying away we experience occur?

In my opinion it happened at the same time as the development of folk dancing and the camps abroad. It is true that the very fact of hordes of dancers joining the circles abroad is a very positive phenomenon per se, but the never ending demand for new dances became a catalyst for the creation of dances until almost all the boundaries were breached.
For several years something not good has been happening to us; it is sufficient if I use the example of the custom of holding hands and everything it implies. Holding hands expresses friendship; it empowers, connects people and creates a force of togetherness. Today, the phenomenon of hand-holding is almost totally extinct and dance instructors really have to beg the dancers to hold hands during the dance. One of the reasons for this is apparently the creation of dances which are not suitable for hand holding.

To my great sorrow, I feel that we are losing control over what is happening; there is no professional etiquette, no mutual esteem, the competition between the dance instructors is wild; and, if that was not enough, the values, such as culture and derech eretz, are also consistently diminished and disappearing.

Your name is Moshe Telem, but it appears that you yourself do not follow the furrow.

I have my own creed; I follow my own plough furrow; I attempt to influence others, as well as to preserve and cultivate the folklore of yesteryear which we worked very hard to create; I attempt to preserve the culture and values we were brought up on. Money must not become such a central land influential element within Israeli folkdance so that everything else is dwarfed by it and/or becomes irrelevant. I know for certain that I am not alone in my opinion and most of the dance instructors in their hearts think like me, although they do not always express that opinion in public.

What can you tell us about the dispute which has arisen between a group of friends including yourself and the Dance Instructors Organization?

A group of friends, including myself, was kicked out of the secretariat of the organization because they did not agree with our opinions. We demanded to have a democracy, which we did not get, and we were "punished" and thrown out. As a result of being dismissed from that group, a group of friends joined together and founded the Amuta, "The Dance Instructors and Folk Dance Choreographers Organization," which has been in operation for about three years.

To my regret, as a result of our departure, mutual lawsuits were filed between both organizations. Since that time, we have made a "Sulch," I am happy to say the lawsuits were withdrawn. Great thanks go to Shlomo Maman who took action to settle the differences and rebuild the bridge. Presently, the two organizations are both in operation and the members who are active in our organization are also registered in the Dance Instructors Organization.

The veteran Dance Instructors Organization was established about 35 years ago by Tamar Eligor, Yaakov Levy, Moshe Telem, Benzi Tiram, Yossi Abuhov, Yoav Ashriel, Yehuda Emannuel, Mishael Barzilai Eli Lurie and others. At that time, we would get together at weekends, talk and discuss the subject of folk dance; there was a feeling of "togetherness," there was a direction we shared. At the present time, to my great regret, there is no platform for holding discussions; there are no refresher courses for dance instructors for broadening their horizons; there is no clear objective we share.

You must remember that we are in a sensitive period with significant problems on the agenda, such as: lack of control over the quality of the dances (lack of screening), lack of control over the large number of new dances, and the lack of connection of some of the dances to the Israeli experience. In the new organization, which was formed by a group of friends, we have several plans, including inter-alia recording of old songs and dances which have disappeared in the torrent of new dances, and the revival of the beautiful Israeli music of old.

In your opinion, how will folk dancing look in another 20 years?

If the dance instructors don't unite and act together against the negative phenomena which we are witnessing, then this progression will continue and only worsen. Folk dancing will turn into social dancing on an absolutely unreasonable scale, of poor quality, and worst of all, it will lose its affinity and connection to folklore, its authenticity and its connection to the Land of Israel of yesteryear.

How many dances have you created up to now, and what do you emphasize in your dances?

I have created about 80 dances. In creating a dance, the following are very important to me: the "Israel-ness" of the song, the quality of the music, the words, the beat, and of course, the structure of the song which will enable it to become a dance. I have worked with some of the best artists such as Shaike Paykov, Manolo from Ma'abarot, Nachum Hayman, Ethnix, and several others. In every dance I create, I really endeavor to integrate at least one new element which will make it unique and refreshing. If it is possible to adapt a step to the words of the song which will express those words, then that is excellent. In any case, I endeavor to find the most appropriate composition. I must point out that I have created several dances which I did not think were good enough and so I simply did not publish them.

Which do you think are the most beautiful dances you have created? Tell us something special about one of them.

I would mention Debka Carmiel as a dance which was created in honor of the Carmiel Festival, and in fact became a dance perpetuating the dance festival which is held in Carmiel every year.
I have created several beautiful dances; among them I would mention Ze HaZemer, Li Zimrei Moledet, Ohevet Samba, Shemesh Boker, Sheani B'Mechol, Rikud HaPrachim, Mishat Nafshi, Siman She HaHoref Kvar Kan, and Shani Betof.
I very much like the connection between working the land, being a farmer, and creating folk dances. More than once I have found myself practicing a step or repeating a beat while I am in the fields.
When I was in Argentina I taught the dance to Uzi Chitman's, Kan Beiti. The dance has a part where a prayer is sent to heaven. At the end of the dance, I received a storm of applause. This was so extraordinary and so exciting that I will never forget it.

Have you ever worked with disabled dancers?

About 30 years ago, together with Orly Bauer, I began to develop the field of dancing with disabled dancers. For ten years I voluntarily led a group for the hearing impaired and deaf-mute population. One of the dancers even asked me to shave off my moustache because he could not understand what I was saying. I would point out that I had several emotional moments while I was working with the disabled population. There were even cases where I succeeded in matchmaking between the dancers, forming nice couples, which gave me an extraordinary feeling of satisfaction.

You are “big on nostalgia” and together with other friends you are trying to renew the dance convention at Dalia. Why?

The convention at Kibbutz Dalia is a symbol for us; it was an important and central milestone in the development of folk dancing. It is true that subsequently there have been several festivals, but the festival at Dalia was the first and as such it will always remain extremely significant. The festival at Dalia is very important as it continues to preserve the folk dancing heritage; therefore we attach great importance to it. It is worth pointing out that the dancers participate and arrive in droves from all over the country. There is something magical and exciting in the atmosphere of the place. The dancers' high spirits and the experience of the event speak for itself. We have plans to expand the gathering at Dalia and to combine it with other events, but I will speak more about this some other time.

Tell us about the annual event you are organizing in Caesarea.

Thirty-six years ago, together with Amnon Shiloh, we decided to organize a dance event which would take place in Caesarea once a year. The aim of the event was to preserve and maintain the high-quality, old and beautiful dances, as well as to preserve middle of the road dances. Unfortunately, due to the plethora of dances, a large number of the amazing dances from the past have been shoved aside and do not receive the honor they deserve; hence the younger dancers do not get to know them at all. For two days at Caesarea we hold “a feast of dance” for the enjoyment of all the dancers who come, with the emphasis being, as aforesaid, on the “older” dances.
Our activity is non-profit and all the revenue received from the event goes to our Amuta, "The Folk Dance Instructors and Choreographers Organization," the organization which we formed. This year, the meeting is being held at Caesarea Friday and Saturday, March 4-5, 2011, and several dance instructors are participating. Below is the link to the event flyer on the Dancers Organization website.

Tell us about the seminars abroad and how you began participating in them.

One day about 35 years ago a couple from Switzerland came to my session and they asked me to go abroad and teach folk dances at a seminar being held in Switzerland. I accepted the offer; I began to teach there, and I continued doing so for several years. Subsequently, I was invited to a seminar in England; I have been doing this seminar continuously for 34 years, each time in a different place. The seminar lasts 5 days and 150-250 dancers take part in it. Kosher food is served at mealtimes (mainly vegetarian, which provides a solution for the seminar participants.) I continued to participate in seminars all over the world including the United States, South America, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, France, Belgium, Singapore, Tasmania, Australia and other places. As I said having seminars abroad is a positive phenomenon, but the requirements to bring new dances to the seminar causes many more dances to be created than the field can absorb.

And here is a nice story. In 1991, I taught at a seminar which was being held in Vilna in the former Soviet Union. There the director of a dance academy from the city of St. Petersburg came up to me and asked me if I knew what the difference was between the Israeli dancers and the dancers in Russia. She didn't wait for my answer and immediately added, “The Israelis actually dance with all their soul, but here the dance is technical.”

What is your opinion about the establishment of the Dancers Organization?

In my opinion the dancers have the full right to express their opinion and their position with regard to folk dancing. We should not forget that the dancers are the consumers, the recipients of the service and the dance instructors are the purveyors of the service. I have no doubt that the Dancers Organization has a place as the representative of the dancers and it should have the ability to express an opinion and take a position as to what is happening in the field. There are quite a few heavyweight issues on the agenda; mutual cooperation can only contribute and assist in promoting solutions to the concerns.

What message which you would like to convey to both the dancer and the instructor?

I want to take this opportunity to address the dancers and the instructors as one and ask them to do everything, really everything, to preserve the folk dancing heritage and the unique folklore which has been created around it. Please take care with the quality of the dances created, the speed of the music, the volume of the music, encourage hand-holding in the circle dances, and promote "togetherness" and camaraderie. Please take care to insure that within every new dance there is some kind of Israeli element, as well as a new element, which would characterize and be unique to that dance. You do not have to create a dance to every song; please leave some songs just for listening as well. We must limit the registration of new dances and make some sort of orderly restrictive framework. We are marching with giant steps towards the fact that due to the multiplicity of dances the dancers will not be able to move easily from session to another; this will cause inestimable damage to the whole field of Israeli dance.

* * * * *

Moshe, we have enjoyed talking with you very much. We were deeply impressed by your world concept and by the wonderful combination of activity in your life, of working the land and folk dancing.

To summarize, we would like to congratulate you and wish you good health and many more years of activity both in agriculture and in folk dancing. We hope that you will be successful in instilling your world concept and your love of Israel into dancers and dance instructors in Israel and abroad.

Interview and report by Atara Goldring Tsur and Adi Habad. Translated by Maxine Cohen.

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