Anyone who has ever attended Jewish summer camp has probably spent some time dancing in a circle, doing the grapevine step and singing the song about Mayim (water). In honor of International Dance Day, Jewish Treats presents a history of Israeli Folk Dancing.
The creation of Israeli Folk Dancing was a deliberate act meant to create a unified culture among the early Jewish settlers who came from a wide range of places and backgrounds. The themes of the earliest folk dances centered around the land, farming and basic Jewish life. For example, one of the first, and still one of the best-known dances is Mayim, Mayim, which was created by Ilse Dubon in 1937, in celebration of finding water after seven years of searching at Kibbutz Na’am. The lyrics are biblical: “With joy you shall draw water from the springs of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3), and the chorus, in English, is simply, “Water, water, water, water, hey water in joy!” Finding water in the parched land was a truly joyous occasion.
In1944, choreographer Gurit Kadman organized the first Israeli Folk Dance festival in Israel, called the First Fruits Dance Pageant, at Kibbutz Dalia. It became an annual event, and other Israeli Folk Dancing gatherings became a common occurrence.
While most people picture a circle of dancers when they think of Israeli folk dances, there are also line dances, partner dances, and individual dances. In the last 67 years, Israel has created its own unique dance culture and absorbed the cultural contributions of its many citizens and immigrants. In the last few years, in reaction to modernization, there has been a significant movement to preserve the old-style Israeli Folk Dancing.
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