Israeli Folk Dance Festival Smash Success

Published: July 12th 2010
in Culture » Music

Israeli folk dancing

A stellar mix of Israeli folkdance teachers and choreographers brought a record number of participants to the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre for a memorable holiday weekend.


It was the fifth annual Israeli folk dance festival. One hundred and fifty people came from outside Toronto, and more than 70 were Torontonians. 


Called Toronto Is Real Dance Festival, it was held over three days with the energy level so exuberant, people were dancing till 2 a.m. every night, reported Sophie Azen, one of the organizers and leader of the Thursday night Israeli dance class.  “My heart expands when I see what’s happening in Toronto,” she said emotionally.  “It was worth every bit of effort.”


Friday night was the kick-off with a Shabbat dinner and service.  After dinner, drummers and belly dancers entertained the appreciative group.


For the festival’s fifth year, the theme was Middle Eastern.  The enormous gym where the dancing took place was decorated with huge swaths of material draped across the ceiling to give the feeling of a tent.  The food, much of it donated, was also Middle Eastern.  Even the multi-coloured balloon holders in the food room were held in place with Aladdin-looking lamps.


Four of the five invited teachers are currently Israel’s most popular folk dance teachers and choreographers: Dudu Barzilay, Rafi Ziv, Victor Gabbay and Ofer Alfassi. The fifth, a specialist in line dancing and a new feature at the Festival, was Carina Saslavsky from Mexico. All five have large followings and travel all over the world to do workshops.


The program featured the latest Israeli folk dances, plus the classic oldies.  New dances, created just for this weekend, were also introduced.


Dalit Sharer has been dancing for years.  She and her husband Moshe met at an Israeli folk dance class.  “I’ve been dancing non-stop,” she said, smiling. “There’s amazing energy in the room.  It’s electrifying.”


Eli Naiman, a regular for many years too, said, “I love it.  There are so many really good dancers here from all over.  And I love the new material.”


Victor Gabbay heads the Israeli Folk Dance Teachers Association.  Now 49, he started dancing when he was 13 with Noar Oved, a youth organization in Israel.  There have been drastic changes since he was a kid.  The choreographies are much more complicated. 


The once sacred circle, where everyone consistently held hands in an atmosphere of unity, is no longer a consistent part of the Israeli folk dance culture. The focus is much more on couple dances than in the past, with partners not mixing with new people as before but sticking with their folk dance “spouses.”


Yet, Gabbay says, Israeli folk dancing has never been more popular. “If before a thousand were dancing,” he said, “now 10,000 [are dancing], and from all walks of life.”  He himself teaches four classes a week in and around Tel Aviv.


“Israeli folk dancing is a connection to Israel for those that do it,” Gabbay added.

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