Roberto Haddon


Choreographer of Enigma, Shkarim and Beini Leveinech Roberto Haddon was born in the south part of England.  He has lived in Germany, the Netherlands and briefly on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.  He has traveled to many other countries including Israel and the U.S.   He shares with Daughter Of The Arts some of his experiences in the dance community.

DOTA: What was your first music and dance experience?

RH: I think I have always enjoyed music and dance.  My father has been a choir master and I have inherited his love of music, although I have never had formal singing lessons or learnt to play an instrument apart from picking out notes on the piano or playing a few chords on the guitar.  We did a few “English Country Dances” (sic) at primary school (age 8-11 years) but it was at university that I really took up dancing – English folk dance and Morris dancing (a particular type of English folk dance) and this in turn lead me to international folk dancing (mainly Balkan and Israeli).

DOTA: Describe your first Israeli folk dance group experience?

RH: My university degree in modern languages (German and Spanish) took me to Hamburg in Germany for a year in 1979-80. In addition to dancing with a local group that did north German folk dances, I joined an international folk dance group at the University where they included a lot of classic Israeli dances.

A couple of years later, working for the Universal Esperanto Association in the Netherlands, I danced with local international folk dance groups and also followed a ‘speciality course’ (as they called it) on Israeli dances – the teacher was Gert-Jan (a.k.a. Gershon) van Ammerkate, who some of the ‘more experienced’ dancers in California may remember from the time he studied under Margalit Oved at UCLA.

I finally moved back to the UK and to London in 1983.  The folk dance groups there at the time tended either to include a lot of west European couple dances (which didn’t interest me) or restricted themselves to the dances of just one country or region.  I did dance for a while with a (then) Yugoslav folklore group, but the one group I found and where I felt most welcome – and where I knew most of the repertoire – was an Israeli dance evening class taught by Fiona Howarth, a name which may also be familiar to some of your readers.  Fiona was then my introduction to other Israeli folk dance groups in London, mostly run within and for the Jewish community, and I have been dancing there ever since.

(photo courtesy Roberto Haddon)

DOTA: What types of music do you enjoy?

RH: To be honest, I enjoy all types of music as long as they have rhythm and melody – although I must confess I’m not too keen on opera. At home I have music on almost all the time, even if only the radio;  I also hate driving my car without music!  As you might expect, a large part of my CD collection is Israeli music, from the Parvarim to Sarit Chadad and many others; but I also have Greek music, country and western, classical music, and many other different types.

DOTA: Who has been an influence on your interest in music and dance?

RH: In terms of music, most recently my partner Costas, who is Greek.  We listen, naturally, to a lot of Greek singers (there’s more than just Glykeria!) and also French and Italian singers from the 60s and 70s, contemporary jazz-soul-blues singers – and lots of Judy Garland!

In terms of (Israeli) dance, two of my first teachers – Gert-Jan and Fiona – who instilled in me a love for and appreciation of both good dances and good teaching.  From the Israeli dance world I also have to mention Moshiko Halevy and Shmulik Gov-Ari.

DOTA: When did you first start teaching dancing?

RH: I’ve been teaching ever since I moved to London, although mostly on an occasional basis – for a few years I taught simple international folk dances at the annual Intervarsity Folk Dance Festival (which is when all the UK university folk dance groups get together for a weekend of almost non-stop folk dance and song).

As a teacher I have led many one-day-courses and on weekends in both the UK and abroad and, as someone who has studied and has a continuing interest in languages, I can teach not only in English but also in German, Dutch and even – although this is pushing it –Hebrew.  I haven’t (yet) tried teaching in Spanish and my Greek – let’s say – doesn’t quite yet make the grade. On the other hand, through my involvement with Esperanto (the international language) I once ended up teaching, in Esperanto, Israeli folk dances at an international youth conference in 1986 in Israel!

DOTA: When did you become a folk dance session leader?

RH: In 1986 I also started leading a small but dedicated group at a synagogue just outside London. The previous teacher (also another pupil of Fiona Howarth) had moved to another part of the country due to her husband’s work and I was asked if I would be willing to take over.  I continued teaching the group for a few years until work commitments took over.

For several years in London I was dancing regularly at the session of a good friend, Yossi Shalev, who is originally from France.  In 2003 he decided to step down and asked me to take over the group and I’m still holding the reins.

Roberto with his long-time friend and dancing partner Jane Mackenzie
(photo: copyright and courtesy Alex Huber)

DOTA: Is Enigma the first dance you have ever choreographed?  Describe the circumstances, and choosing the music.

RH: Enigma is indeed the first dance I choreographed.  I worked and lived on Cyprus for 4 months in 1995-96.  I heard Enigma on the radio and fell in love with it immediately.  I bought the CD – by the Greek group Zig Zag – and liked the rest of the music as well, although the title track Enigma was my favorite.  I bought copies of the CD also as presents for friends – one of whom was Yossi (see above).  Since he knew I had also done international folk dancing, he begged me to “do something with that music!”

Well, the idea had been planted but it took a while for it to germinate – 4 years, in fact.  For a number of years I had been teaching a weekend Israeli dance mini-camp and in 2000 we were having our 10th anniversary; well, I decided I would have to do something special and I made up my mind to choreograph a dance to Enigma.  It proved to be very popular – even in international folk dance circles – and the rest, as they say, is history!

DOTA: Describe the circumstances for choreographing Shkarim ?
RH: As soon as Enigma became popular, people started asking me when I was going to create another dance – to which I always replied: “When I find the right music!”  This happened two years later when we were on holiday in Greece and – as usual – had the radio on in our room.  The music for Shkarim (called ‘Psemata Yia Mena Lene’ in the original) came on and I just knew that was going to be my next dance!

All three of my dances have been circle dances because at my own session in London – for historical reasons – we only dance circle and some line dances, so I wanted to ensure everyone could dance.

DOTA: Is Beini Leveinech your first Israeli folk dance?  How did you decide on the music?

RH: Well, I would say that Beini Leveinech is my first dance to Israeli music – I’ll leave the deliberations about whether as such it is an Israeli dance to the scholars of the Rikud and Machol Ha’am lists or to the Irgun!  For me the most important consideration for any of my dances is how well they fit into Israeli dance sessions in terms of style and feeling.

I decided upon the music when I was listening to one of my Shlomi Shabat CDs and the rhythm (7/8) just ‘spoke’ to me – unfortunately I think this is the same reason why Beini Leveinech hasn’t become as popular in Israeli dance sessions as my other two dances, which have a simpler 4/4 rhythm.  (Or is it 2/4?  I already mentioned that I don’t really have any formal music training…)

Roberto (far left) leading dance in session
(photo: copyright and courtesy Alex Huber)

DOTA: How would you say IFD in England is the same or different from other dance locations?

RH: Hm – I would say it’s the same and different!  It has developed mostly due to the dedication of a small number of teachers and sessions’ leaders, which is probably the case in most countries outside Israel.  Unlike other countries in Europe, however, most of the dancers at regular sessions are Jewish (or maybe this is just the case in London – I can’t really speak for the other, much smaller sessions outside London).  I think what we do have in common with other sessions outside of Israel is that we tend to play more of a mix of dances – not just the latest hits, but also good dances from throughout the history of Israeli dancing.

DOTA: Have you participated in folk dance camps in England?  Which ones?  How do they compare to other countries’ dance camps?

RH: Machol Europa is the UK’s long-standing Israeli folk dance camp (I would say look at the IFDI-UK website but I know it’s off-line at the moment!).  It started out primarily as a camp for teachers and session leaders from the UK and Western Europe.  More recently it has incorporated training of young dance leaders from the emerging Jewish communities in Eastern Europe (including Turkey).  The most noticeable difference about Machol Europa is the sheer number of countries represented – sometimes over 20 different countries!

DOTA: Do you have a favorite singer or composer?

RH: I’ll stick to Israeli music for this one: I love listening to the CDs of Rami Kleinstein, Rita, Noa (Achinoam Nini) and Idan Raichel, and I’m always amazed at the prodigious output of Tamir Kaliski and Ze’ev Nechama who not only compose songs and lyrics for their own group Ethnix but – seemingly – for any number of other Israeli artists!

DOTA: Why did you decide to participate in Israeli folk dancing?

As I mentioned when answering one of the other questions, it was in the Israeli dance group when I first moved to London that I had the most fun and (already) knew the most dances; I’ve also stayed with Israeli dancing since then because I know I can go dancing in Israel and feel part of a session – albeit as a guest, since I’m neither Israeli nor Jewish – and also in so many other Israeli dance groups across the world.

DOTA: What elements of Israeli folk dancing are the most satisfying to you?

RH: Apart from the fact that I know I can feel at home in sessions across Israel and the wider world, I think it is the sheer variety of Israeli dances themselves: fast or slow; beautifully simple or challengingly involved; circle, couple and line; so many different styles of music.  When I am choosing dances to teach either at my own session or elsewhere, I know I can always find a mix of dances, which means each dancer, will find something they like.

DOTA: What elements are problematic?

RH: Like many others, I do find the number of new dances coming out of Israel each year quite daunting; I think though that we are also lucky outside of Israel in that – in the most cases – we probably end up with the dances that have already passed through a process of “natural selection.” There’s always the odd one or two, which slip through the net!

DOTA: What message would you like to convey to dancers about the Israeli folk dance phenomenon in your opinion?

RH: Just keep doing it for enjoyment’s sake!

Roberto Haddon leads and teaches Israeli folk dancing at the following regular dance session:

Hora Alon
Tuesday, 21:00 to 23:00 (9 pm to 11 pm)
Wembley, just outside of London, England


Roberto will be a guest choreographer at the following upcoming dance camp:
Kochavim Israeli Dance Camp, held at Camp Young Judaica, in the Texas Hill Country, located in Wimberley, sixty miles from San Antonio and forty-five miles from Austin, Texas
March 30-April 2, 2006

Roberto’s dance Enigma may be seen at the following link:

Roberto’s dance Shkarim may be seen at the following link:

Roberto’s dance Beini Leveinech may be seen at the following link:

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