Center for Interfaith Cooperation

Hoosiers of Many Faiths in Community

Israeli Dancing Experience

This week, my journey of discovery about the intersection of dance and religion continued with an Israeli dance class. As I have been getting my project together, I have been in contact with several interesting people from the dance and religious communities around Indianapolis. Rhea McDonald, the Israeli dance instructor at the Jewish Community Center, also teaches Israeli dance as an elective at Butler. Therefore, I was able to attend a class to get a firsthand perspective of what this style of dancing is really like.

The class had been going on for about a month, so I had to jump in and learn as I went. This, however, was a wonderful learning experience. Everyone knew the dances, so I had to watch carefully and follow other people to keep up. This contributed to my understanding of the communal aspect of Israeli dance. Many of the dances were done in a circle, where everyone held hands and faced inward. The steps involved moving around the circle, everyone coming into the center of the circle and going back out again, or even breaking from the circle and having a line leader who led us into different patterns. The whole feel of the dances felt very collective; you had to directly interact with the people around you.

The dancing as a whole was lots of fun. As the teacher explained to me, Israeli dancing is not strictly religious; in fact, it has become a secular pastime for many people. It is a recreational activity that at times is influenced by the Jewish tradition. Many of these dances are danced at communal Jewish events. Movement has become a part of several different religious events in Jewish culture, including weddings, bat mitzvahs, or bar mitzvahs. However, it is also just a fun activity that many Israeli people participate in.

The steps themselves were somewhat similar to what one would think of as folk dancing. The steps involved stomping, hopping, clapping, and stepping over or under oneself, among other things. Many of the dances were based in the Yemenite tradition, which utilizes a move with three steps that follow the pattern of “quick, quick, slow.” The most interesting and fun part to me, though, was the rhythmic patterns and how they related to the music that was used. The steps went perfectly with the interesting Israeli music, and the dances often included intricate rhythmic patterns that were more than just keeping to the steady beat. Learning and doing these patterns was really intriguing as well as enjoyable.

Overall, it was a really valuable experience to actually get to try some Israeli dancing myself. This fits in with the whole idea of my project. Reading about or researching a style of dance will only get you so far; it is actually doing the steps and applying it on your own body that makes you understand the movement tradition more fully. Therefore, I am even more excited for these events I am planning, which will include a large amount of actual dancing. By taking a hands on approach, audience members will really get to know what the tradition is like, and be better equipped to appreciate the religious tradition and context it springs from. The first event will be planned soon, and will include a chance to do some Israeli dancing of your own, so keep an eye out!


A picture of the types of dance I did in the Israeli dancing class.

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