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Musing About The Never Ending Stream of New Israeli DancesPhil Moss 24.12.16 

Thought I'd share this piece I just posted on the internet:

For some unknown reason I am motivated to share some thoughts as we approach the end of another year of Israeli Dancing. No brilliant new insights here particularly, just my current feeling about the State of the Union of Israeli Dancing.

Those who have followed me over the years know that I consider IFD (now ID because most of us don’t think of it as folk dancing anymore) a movement - a global movement that in theory and perhaps in actuality unites us in our love of dance, community, Israeli culture, fun and connection to Israel. Promoting this movement has been a passion and commitment of mine for something like 45 years now. And be’ezrat hashem, I’m not done yet.

So my comments come from the perspective of someone who is still within the fold, not someone who has chosen to leave or denigrate ID as it now exists. And one who is happy to leave all politics aside.

My thought has always been that the dances we do are a kind of language that has the potential to unite us all - the potential to enable us all to “speak the same language”, i.e. the ability to dance the same dances anyplace in the world that ID is done, regardless of the country language spoken locally.

In earlier times this was much easier to do when a smaller number of dances were all created in Israel and made their way around the world one way or another. They may have morphed in translation but essentially in the 60s and into the early 70s we were all doing the same dances, thus speaking the same language. In the 70s though and to this day, we started seeing dances being created outside Israeli as well as within. In some cases, we saw different dances being created to the same music w/o awareness and sometimes concern about who was doing what inside and outside Israel.

The 70s were also about the time of the beginning of the flood of creation of new dances. At earlier times, it was more or less possible for everyone to more or less all know the same dances. But at some point, there were too many dances being created for it to be possible for anyone, let alone the masses, to stay abreast of everything worthwhile that came out. The problem has only gotten worse, thanks to the commercialization of ID, the number of people who choose to choreograph, the proliferation of ID camps and workshops, the proliferation of ID sessions, and of course the ability to instantly transmit a new dance globally through the internet.

This is all a long way of saying that it is no longer anywhere close to possible to enable us to globally speak the same ID language because we are no longer all able learn and know the same dances.

As a markid, I do the best I can to create a fun evening for my people, and I do the best I can to introduce the dances that I think they may find when they go to ID in Israel and to other groups around the world. And at the same time, I try to reinforce what we’ve learned throughout time. Of course, this is not physically possible because there are too many dances. And it is also not possible because each group has its own repertoire. Even in Israel, there is a great deal of variety of which dances are done in which groups. Still I try. But I know that to some extent I am tilting at windmills. (Do you still do Don Quixote?) 

Of course, I do what others do when it comes to selecting new dances. I try to keep track of what’s being taught and requested in Israel and various groups around the world. I network with fellow markidim throughout the world to try to get a sense of what’s working in their groups. I look at a lot of video. And so on….

But there is simply too much worthy material out there and it is not possible to get us all “speaking the same language.” Please understand that I am not one of those who takes the position that the old stuff was all classic and great and the new stuff is all cookie cutter and does not have staying power. In fact, I would say that there are lots of worthy dances being created each year. Just too many of them. Further, I would say that the new dances on average are least as good as the old ones, maybe even better. I also don’t think that “new dances” are the single cause of what I perceive to be the contracting of our movement. In fact, I believe that new stuff has helped to keep some of the excitement and vibrancy in our world. And to maybe bring in young people. Without it, I believe ID would become stale and stultified. But the plethora of new dances comes at a cost. It increases our fragmentation. It creates a barrier to entry for both veterans (who come and go at various times in their lives) and for newbies who have to drink from a fire hydrant in order to become regulars. For veteran non-regulars it becomes daunting to come back and see so many dances they haven’t learned. Unless one attends regularly, one becomes a stranger in a strange land instead of feeling comfortable when “coming home.”

I don’t think there is a realistic solution to the problem. I don’t think it is possible or desirable to try impose controls over the creative process. I don’t think it is realistically possible or desirable to create a process to jury which dances get introduced and which don’t. I’m not sure there is even any realistic way to get a consensus of which new dances are worthy of being proliferated and which are not. (I enjoy the “Dances of The Year” surveys but they have their own biases as well.) So that leaves individual session leaders having to try to navigate these waters for themselves. Sure we can and often do our best to collaborate and share what’s working where but I am not sure that this has a material impact on the problem.

The best I can come up with is to encourage those who create dances and those who enable them to be introduced to do the best they can to select those dances that have the potential to become part of the same language that we can all speak.

Happy Chanukah and holidays.
Best Wishes To All,

Phil Moss

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