Ruth Goodman caught Israeli Dance fever as a youngster. Through her extensive experience as a dancer and teacher, she continues to be dedicated to bridging communication between Jewish and non-Jewish communities through Jewish and Israeli folk dancing.
DOTA: What was your first experience with dance?
RG: My first dance experiences were as a very young child in a local dance studio followed by several years as a student with Madame Bratislava Mordkin, the wife of Michael Mordkin who had been the partner of the Bolshoi ballet’s prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Each year culminated with a production of classic ballet suites in costumes from the Bolshoi. It was wonderful! I continued throughout my teens with the Metropolitan Opera School of Ballet and followed by Ballet Russe in my later teens and college years. I also studied modern dance in high school with the New Dance Group studio in New York.
DOTA: Describe your first experiences with Israeli Folk Dancing (IFD).
RG: I first participated in Israeli dance, actually, international folk dance, as a pre-teen at a youth retreat. The dance that caught my eye was Lech Lamidbar – I loved the energy and spirited movements. I had also been chosen to participate in a television show focusing on Jewish themes choreographed by Felix Fibich – I was about 10 or 11 years old. He had a very spirited choreography to “Debka Uriah” (Debka Habir) that stood out for me. I had been very active in social causes during the mid- late1960’s through youth organizations and was introduced to Zionist youth groups that expressed a sense of social justice. Through meetings with the Zionist groups, including weekend retreats, I was further exposed to a variety of Israeli folk dances – horas, debkas, lyrical and lovely dances – one of them was “At Va’ani” – choreographed by my future dance partner, Danny Uziel. I loved the lyrical quality of this dance. Dances like “Haro’a Haktana” and “Al Tira” felt absolutely natural to me – perhaps it was because of movements that had some of my favorite classical dance elements – jumps and turns in particular. My high school friends brought me to the 92 nd Street Y ( New York) where Fred Berk’s Open Session was filled with energetic young people – many from the Zionist youth movements. I drank it all in – and that’s really how it began.
From there, I choreographed for the Israel Folk Dance Festival, under Fred’s direction (after having viewed performances in earlier years), joined a creative Jewish dance troupe, “Jewish Dance Ensemble” and then started my own troupe, “Parparim Ensemble of Israeli Dance and Song” which is still active today. My father was a concert pianist and classical music has always been central to my life. My strong musical background – encouraged me to combine dance and music projects wherever possible. This is what I have done with my performances, with the Dance Festival and within educational settings.
In comparing my ballet and folk dance experiences, I have always viewed folk dance as a vehicle for bettering social understanding. Ballet and my classical dance and music experiences nourish my soul and facilitate my being able reach out to people of all backgrounds and levels of dance experience – to find a common ground. This is what I love about my work with Israeli folk dance: the ability to have a tool that will bring diverse people together – regardless of political, religious observance, economic and differences – we can learn to respect and appreciate each other.
DOTA: When did you first get involved in Israeli Folk Dance as a teacher and what were the circumstances? Where are you teaching on a regular basis at this time?
RG: I first began teaching while in college. The Israeli dance session at Columbia University had begun about a year before I attended. I was soon asked to help teach. I eventually became the sole teacher of this weekly session. I was also teaching dance at a Hebrew School and taught at Jewish summer camps. When Fred Berk retired, he asked that I continue the program at the 92 nd Street Y and also take on the role of Director of the Israel Folk Dance Festival. The Y program included a variety of classes for teens and adults as well as special event programs – café nights, lectures and holiday performances. Shulamite Kivel and Danny Uziel worked with me. Shula ran the teen program, taught the basic adult instructional class and co-directed the holiday performances. Danny joined us for special events later and joined me for the weekly Open Session. After Shula retired to Florida, Danny and I combined the instructional and open sessions. It has flourished and continues today. The two open sessions ( Columbia and the 92 nd Street Y) have always been on a regular, weekly basis.
DOTA: You’ve choreographed four Israeli folk dances for children: Arbaat Haminim (1992), Chag Assif, (1990), Eize Chag Li (1990) and Shana Tova (1990). Are there others?
RG: I have choreographed a number of other dances for children; one in particular is “Shalom Levo Shabbat.” For many years, I worked closely with Shulamite Kivel who specialized in working with children in both school and summer camp settings. Shula, although a generation my senior, also had a strong background in classical and modern dance and we connected perfectly. Together we were running seminars for teachers at the 92 nd Street Y and for conferences. We felt a need for new and creative material to inspire children and we worked together to choreograph appropriate dances, creative variations and staging concepts. My choreography for adults has been for performing groups.
DOTA: In your opinion, what has been the impact of the exposure of IFD into venues outside of the normal IFD community?
RG: Israeli folk dance, because of its inherent multi-cultural nature, has always appealed to people of diverse backgrounds. Coupled with the sheer joy of movement that characterizes the free spirit of Israeli folk dance, it has extended to Jewish and non-Jewish communities throughout the world. Israeli folk dance can be pivotal to cultural understanding. I welcome any opportunity to have Israeli folk dance serve as a bridge to better relations between communities. I always have this in my mind in every teaching and performing situation.
DOTA: How has the appeal of Israeli folk dance grown outside of Israel? What are the factors both in the Jewish community and in the non-Jewish community?
RG: Within the Jewish community, Israeli folk dance has been a way to connect with Israel and Jewish traditions. The language, music and interaction of Israelis and non-Israelis create a special bond. It also allows for friendships to develop. Groups of dancers often socialize outside of the dance session and often travel together to Israeli dance camps around the world. With the world in such a chaotic state, Israeli folk dance is a welcome opportunity to escape in a healthy way without CNN, without the stress of daily pressures in an unsettled world and without focusing on Jewish religious or political beliefs. For the non-Jewish community, I think that it is the multiplicity of ethnic influences that directly connects to diverse populations. The warmth and spirit of Israeli dance is also very welcoming.
Danny Pollack (red sweater) teaching Nursery school children
DOTA: In what ways do you teach (expose) IFD to children and adults who have not come into contact with the culture before?
RG: This depends on the community. Wherever possible, I try to make a connection to a style of music and /or movement that will create a common language. With young children, I start by giving them a sense of fun and ease of movement. With all groups, I weave in a sense of Jewish/Israeli culture in my selection of dances. There are many cross-cultural dance motifs and these can help create a common language. There are universal themes such as family, appreciation of agriculture, seasons, etc. that lend themselves to a variety of dances for all ages.
DOTA: What have you learned from the children?
RG: Children love to move! They need the proper balance of structure and freedom to move and express themselves. They also welcome realistic challenges. There needs to be a balance of contemporary and classic dance repertoire, the inclusion of movement games and opportunities for the development of creative ideas. As with adults, much of working with children is social work.
DOTA: Tell about your first project working together with Keshet Chaim for special programs. How did your association come about?
RG: In 1988, Danny Uziel and I were asked to select four North American Israeli dance performing troupes to participate in the first Karmiel Festival. This was a project of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture as part of the celebrations in Israel commemorating 40 years of independence. We were thrilled to receive the video of Keshet Chaim and to be introduced to the Ensemble. Once the four groups were selected, Danny and I traveled to work with each group on choreographed pieces we had learned in Israel from Karmiel director, Yonatan Karmon. Keshet Chaim’s artistic director, Eytan Avisar, had performed with Karmon, as had Danny Uziel years before, so everything connected beautifully. After that first Karmiel experience, I stayed in touch with Keshet Chaim. I met Genie Benson a few years later when Dani Dassa brought me in as a guest teacher at Rikud.
Genie had joined Keshet Chaim shortly after the first Karmiel Festival. Genie and I bonded quickly and stayed in touch. Our first extended professional experience together was at the JCC in Houston, Texas in 2000 for their annual “Dance Month” event. Keshet Chaim performed a full concert and I led workshops throughout the community – in Jewish and non-schools, arts magnet schools, after school and community centers, a special workshop and dance party for the local Israeli dancers and a teachers workshop in conjunction with the local Board of Jewish Education. All this took place during the week prior to the concert. Genie joined to assist me for the workshops. This was a wonderful experience. We worked with communities of all ages ranging from Chabad girls to an African-American youth Center. All the communities came together for a dance party following Keshet Chaim’s final performance.
Genie and I were very much inspired by the power of dance to bridge all factions of the community. Genie, who is a remarkable organizer with great vision, (in addition to her skills as a dancer and rehearsal director) asked me to participate in a fantastically ambitious project, “Shared Roots” which took place in Los Angeles in 2002. Keshet Chaim and the Inbal Dance Theatre offered concert programs and lecture-demonstrations for the community. Several of Keshet Chaim’s dancers assisted me with my Israeli dance workshops that were designed to complement the program. Over 1600 students of mixed ages and cultural backgrounds participated. I also conducted a teacher’s workshop. Genie organized the project wonderfully and our shared goal of enhancing ethnic understanding was achieved.
DOTA: What has been the focus of your involvement with Keshet Chaim?
RG: Inspired by the Houston and Los Angeles projects, Genie and I have sought to enhance the component of dance in Jewish education throughout the United States. Last year the Israeli Dance Institute offered a three-day workshop in Albany, New York, “Israeli Folk Dance in Jewish Education – The Added Dimension.”
IDI Albany Workshop 2004-Performance by Temple Israel ‘s Tzamarot teens
We thought to mount a similar project in Los Angeles which would build on the strengths of current activities: the community built and nurtured by Dani Dassa with a chance to bring specialists in Jewish dance education together to share ideas with other dance, movement, arts specialists and Jewish educators. Our focus is always on bringing communities together and creating networks that can enrich our resources.
We are taking our first step in Los Angeles with “Moving Out of the Box – Israeli Folk Dance in Jewish Education” – an interactive full-day workshop to be held at the Skirball Cultural Center on Sunday, November 6, 2005.
Iris Cohen from Israeli Dance Institute teaching teens
DOTA: Describe your involvement with the Israeli Dance Institute (IDI). How did it begin? What were the goals? What are the Institute’s current goals?
RG: I succeeded Fred Berk as Director of the American Zionist Youth Organization’s Israel Folk Dance Institute. When the AZYF was closing, Danny Uziel and I wanted to ensure that the projects and goals of the Institute would continue, and with the encouragement of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, we founded IDI in 1990.
The Israeli Dance Institute is an independent, non-profit educational organization, which networks the ever-growing population of Israeli dance enthusiasts in the United States, Israel and throughout the world. The spirit of warmth and exuberance generated through Israeli folk dance appeals to people of all backgrounds and has made Israeli folk dance an integral part of the international folk dance repertoire as well. The Israeli Dance Institute provides today’s increased folk dance population with a comprehensive resource and information center, offering professional guidance and materials to teachers, community leaders and performing groups. The activities of the Israeli Dance Institute provide a constant reaffirmation of identification with Israel and with Jewish roots, enhancing ties with Israel and within the American Jewish community itself. Our current goals are to help guide Israeli dance communities throughout the world, to develop a broad base of Jewish dance educators and to increase awareness of the value of Israeli dance in Jewish education through regional seminars and workshops, to facilitate the production of teaching materials, to encourage and guide regional Festivals and to build on our joint-venture magazine, “Rokdim-Nirkoda”.
DOTA: Are there any additional comments you would like to share?
RG: Israeli folk dance is one of the best tools we have to bring light and social understanding to our communities. I feel confident that IDI’s partnership with Genie Benson and Keshet Chaim will help us to reach our shared goals. I would encourage every Jewish educator and arts specialist to join us on November 6 th so we can expand our avenues of communication and productive programming. I look forward to meeting and sharing ideas with many wonderful people.