Dance Tidbits: Dances of Israel

Israel is known for embracing a wide variety of dance styles. Dances vary from traditional Israeli folk dancing to ballet, modern dance, ballroom dancing and flamenco. Israel is a country that truly loves dance!

An immigrant in 1929 changed the way Palestine observed music in schools. Rivka Sturman observed that children were being taught German songs in kindergarten and decided it was important for them to have songs and dances that represented the culture of their own country. She helped form an organization that devoted itself to the creation of folk dances. Since Rivka had a background in modern dance, she became one of the most prolific folk dance choreographers in the country. From 1942 to 1983, Rivka created, taught and performed more than 90 dances that became Israeli classics.

Every July in Israel there is an dance festival that was first held in the city of Karmiel. It started in 1987 and is the largest celebration of dance in Israel. It usually runs three or four days and nights. What makes this festival so spectacular is that over 5,000 dances are performed and almost one million spectators come from all over the world to see it in the capital of the Galilee! This event started out as a simple Israeli folk dance event. Now the festival includes performances, workshops and open dance sessions for a variety of dance forms and nationalities. You can see famous dance companies and choreographers from all over the world come to Israel to perform and give classes. One famous dancer noted to have been at the festival in 2010 was Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Israel’s trademark dance is the Hora. This is a famous dance where people take to the streets to celebrate when the state was born in 1948. The Hora is an essential part of the social entertainment in rural areas. The Hora and other circle dances combine cultures of Eastern Europe and the Arab Dabka. The Dabka is an Arabic folk dance that originated in the mountainous regions above the Mediterranean coastline and the Tigriss River. This dance was created and mainly danced by people of the villages and towns of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. The Hora is a traditional folk dance probably danced at more Jewish weddings than any other dance at the celebration. It is a worldwide dance and is also greatly loved and appreciated in the United States. The Hora is a “fun, feel good dance,” danced in a circle. Interestingly enough, the Hora originated in the Balkans but quickly found its way to other countries. This dance first appeared in North America in the 20th century. Anyone who as ever gone to a Jewish wedding also knows about the song that accompanies the Hora, it is called Hava Nagila.

The Hora starts with everybody forming a circle, holding hands or interlocking arms behind their backs or on their shoulders. The circle spins, moving counterclockwise, as each participant follows a sequence of three steps forward and one step back. As in the strong Jewish tradition, it is customary to honor the celebrated person or couple by placing the person on a chair during the dance and lifting them up and allowing them to be the center of attention, in the middle of the circle. This is not only done at weddings but Bar and Bat Mitzvahs too. The Romanians also consider the Hora their traditional folk dance. The Romanians use musical instruments to accompany their dance, such as accordion, violin, double bass, saxophone and trumpet.

The famous dance company in Israel is the Batsheva Dance Company. It is an internationally acclaimed dance company based in Tel Aviv. It was founded by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild in 1964. From 1964 until 1979, the prima ballerina of Batsheva was Rina Schenfeld. Rina and Rena Gluck were the company’s principal dancers for many years.

Rina Schoenfeld was a very inspirational art figure in Israel. Rina Schoenfeld started a dance theater in 1978. She developed an eclectic blend of Bauhaus ideology, theater, modern dance and ballet wherein physical objects were used to guide the imagination to places beyond dance. This is where the Bauhaus ideology comes into play. Bauhaus was an art school in Germany that combined crafts and fine arts. It was famous for its approach to design and architecture. There is even a Bauhaus Museum in Tel Aviv. The most important aspect of Bauhaus was its cultural movement. The design innovations derived from its rather simplified forms allowed for individual artistic spirit. And that is where Rina Schoenfeld derived many of her creative dance ideas from.

Ballroom dancing became popular thanks to new Israelis from the former Soviet Union. The Russian influence is also strong in Israel’s classical ballet. If you love dance, they say, you should schedule time to attend the summer Israel Festival or the fall Tel Aviv-Yaffo International Dance Festival. Both of these events host premier Israeli companies like Batsheva, The Israel Ballet and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Prestigious international dance troupes make these shows a “must see.”

My favorite part about Israel and its love of dance is their unique ability to combine contemporary dance with folklore and tradition. There are over three thousand Israeli folk dances! And here is where I say, “Israel, you get my vote as the most “innovative dance” country in the world.” Today, there are groups in Israel whose jobs are to conserve the heritage of Israeli folk dance. About one hundred thousand people dance on a regular basis at least once a week and an additional one hundred thousand dance several times a year! Now that is a country I can hang my dance shoes on!

Happy dancing indeed,

Thought Of The Week:

“You never regret what you do in life, you only regret what you don’t do.” – Dr. Wayne W. Dyer



Shane Meuwissen is the Media Specialist for Fordney Foundation.  He is a former dance instructor who know works with his company Slow Motion Dance Videos capture the beauty of dancing. If you would like to learn more about Shane and his video work, visit his website