I first met my elderly Jewish friends at a time when our church dance troupe wanted to learn Israeli folk dance. I felt out of place as my friend and I stood out-side of the circle of people at the Jewish Community Center. I was much younger than they were, and did not know any of the dances, which were all sung in Hebrew. Dancing is a sacred and uniting ritual for Jews all over the world. Were we intruding? Did they think that we would try to convert them as others had tried? I purposed just to learn folk dance. I ended up gaining more.
“Ariane, you have ‘fire’ when you folk dance,” observed Lupe, who was a teacher and friend who had joined our class. Her compliment had a deeper significance than I realized. We resumed our positions in the circle and waited for Yusi, our instructor, to announce the next dance. As he placed the needle of his old Hi-Fi on the ancient LP that crackled with scratches and age, we all clasped hands and counted for the first steps of the song “Kissufim.”
Step right-touch, step left-touch, sway, sway, sway and walk-two-three. On it went, flowing with music that captured its meaning of “longing and desire.” It was a favorite of the group, requested over and over.
My experiences with dancing began at age nineteen after my sports career ended. Learning classical dance technique wasn’t too difficult as I had spent a number of years training in my sport. But mental challenges came when Lupe taught us modern dance gesture and movement. After being given reading assignments, we were expected to dance scenes from Greek tragedies. Inspiration still did not come as I re-read for the tenth time the narration of Oedipus killing his father at the crossroads. As I tried to pull ideas out of myself, only frustration and defeat boiled up. I needed music to motivate me! The ‘creative well’ seemed dry.
A bright patch came when we learned pantomime. Smearing white-face makeup on our faces and making a mask was like finger painting as a child. The fun continued as we drew our features with black pencils. People’s reactions were always either surprise or delight in seeing a Mime. Gesturing, though difficult, proved to be rewarding.