A Different Kind of Dance

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It always confused me that the religious guys I know are horrible (secular) dancers because they almost all shuckle on a daily basis. Shuckling is the swaying motion that one commonly finds in synagogue. Most people shuckle from the waist–that is, bend forward at the waist, and then stand back up. Shuckling is also generally done to no particular rhythm. One doesn’t often find a whole group of men shuckling to the same time signature–it’s an internal thing, but looks both natural, and in some cases very graceful. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me that in Israel there is a dance troupe of religious guys who have taken the movements and gestures of religious life (like shuckling), and made them into dances. But it did, because despite their graceful shuckling, almost none of my religious guy friends strike me as dancer types.

The NYTimes has a piece on the religious dance troupe Ka’et:

Perhaps the epitome of this effort is Ka’et, a group of five Orthodox men working under the direction of a Tel Aviv choreographer, Ronen Izhaki. Together they create spare yet emotionally rich work that takes gestures from daily prayer movements along with chants and synagogue attire, and gently shifts and reframes these elements as postmodern dance. It’s a savvy move, reflecting both the explosive body of Ohad Naharin’s choreography and its social opposite, the trancelike swaying of devout Jews in deep prayer. “We are using the stage to awaken a new discussion between our lives and our bodies,” said Amitai Stern, 25, the youngest member of the group.

The men of Ka’et (a Hebrew acronym that means “timely”) are not professional dancers. In their 20s and 30s, some have families; all have day jobs — one is a rabbi at a yeshiva, another works with runaways from ultra-Orthodox homes. But when they made their debut in the fall at the Lab, an important alternative space in Jerusalem, and afterward in sold-out concerts elsewhere, their lack of performing experience didn’t matter. They presented an astonishingly intense dance, “Highway No. 1,” with movement, costumes and sound score taken from Jewish religious practice.

Here’s some clips from one of their performances:

Posted on January 18, 2011

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