Notes from the Beginning|
by Rick in Philadelphia
The girls in our 5th and 6th grade classes knew the Bar Mitzvah age was approaching and that they wanted to be sure to have dance partners for the receptions. We met after school at one of their apartments, spent hours playing the record “Goody, Goody” by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and practiced to that great paced Lindy. As teenagers we watched and mimicked the dancers on Dick Clark’s “American Bandstand” and attended the dances in the school cafeteria or local Y. And so began my dance career.
By the time I met my future wife, we were both avid rock-and-roll dancers, did a bit of ballroom, and even loved the fun of the square dance. We danced on stage at the Cape Cod Melody Tent with the Boys of Bandstand (Frankie, Fabian and Bobby)! But we had absolutely no knowledge that Israeli dancing, beyond the Hora and Miserlou, even existed.
It was in the late ’70 when we met Rabbi Dan, aka the “dancing rabbi”, at our synagogue in Rhode Island and were introduced to Israeli folk dance. He held 2 hour dance sessions once a week, but family and work commitments often kept us from becoming regulars. As our family grew older so did my wife’s time commitment to attend. But, I became a dance drop-out. Soon my wife, who was smitten, made tapes of all the music, and began to teach several of the simpler dances to the children at the Day School and Hebrew schools in town. When Rabbi Dan moved on to a bigger congregation, the group floundered without real leadership, and my wife dabbled in international dance.
Eleven years ago our move to suburban Philadelphia for a new employment opportunity, turned into a dancing opportunity as well. One of the first things my wife did was to find out if there was any Israeli dancing in town. She found several sessions within an hour’s drive, and after participating for a few years alone, one instructor was starting a beginners’ group and she encouraged me to come. And so, I became a beginner- again. We spent an hour with the novices, step-by-step, moving in a circle, re-learning the basics. By the end of the evening I was tired and out-of-breath and recognized that I had better get back in shape and lose some weight in order to be able to participate.
Now, six years later, I am proud to say that I have become a regular weekly Israeli dancer; I do couple dancing, have been to a few marathons and, in the past two years, have danced in Israel at multiple locations. Along the way I have learned a few tips for success that I would like to share. Don’t be shy; everyone was a beginner at one time. Keep moving. Come early to the dance sessions when most of the teaching is slower paced and more repetitive. Learn the names of the steps, Yemenite left, Yemenite, right, pivot, cherkessia, sivuv (turn) etc. as most dances are merely various combinations of the same movements. Find yourself an accomplished, long legged dancer, dressed in black, and stay at their left. Keep moving in the circle. Come often. Attend classes more than once a week if you want to remember the dances and attempt to catch up. Stay late, when the more experienced dancers arrive, and dance behind the circle to copy from the best. Give yourself a break; learning a new dance can be difficult. Did I mention to keep moving? Like me, it may take you six months to a year to feel comfortable, but you will succeed. Your brain and your body will thank you for your effort.