Traditional dances find new values.
Adapted and reprinted with permission from Rokdim.
In the years preceding and following the formation of the Jewish state, Israeli folkdance emerged as part of a conscious effort to increase Israel's official folk culture. The belief at the time was that Jews living in Israel, who came from all parts of the Diaspora, needed symbols of unification to bolster their national identity. Folkdances were first created with this goal in mind.
Over the past 60 years, Israeli society has seen many changes, and today there is little agreement about what it means to be an Israeli or what constitutes "Israeli identity." As Israel has come to accept the diversity of its Jewish population--with eclectic European, Middle Eastern, African, and now American backgrounds--the original political rationale for folk dancing has become largely out-of-date. In arts and culture in general, Israel is no longer overtly preoccupied with the formation of a unified, monolithic national identity.
Despite the changing political and social climate, in some circles in Israel, folkdance continues to blossom and enjoy popularity. Many Israeli folk dancers say they dance for the pleasure that stems from a feeling of belonging--they are not concerned with the original values the dances intended to espouse.
An Uncertain Future
And yet the future of Israeli folkdance is not certain. Some fear that folk dancing will become important only to a marginal group of people, as is the case with similar dance in many other countries. The fact that most Israeli folk dancers (professional and amateur) are older than 30 is hardly promising. Folk dancing aficionados commonly express the concern that the next generation of Israelis prefers bars and discos, with the contemporary forms of dance that come with them.
Other supporters of Israeli folkdance worry that the social and national values symbolized in Israeli dance are quickly becoming extinct, and that this is emblematic of a larger problem: the shared values of Israeli society as a whole are in danger.
Then and Now
No doubt, Israeli folkdances were created for Zionist reasons. After 1948, as the first generation of children born in the state of Israel began to mature, the new society searched for authentic cultural material to call its own. Gurit Kadman, one of the seminal figures of the Israeli folkdance movement, maintained that "for people who fervently wished to have dances of our own in our lifetime, there was no choice" than to break with the traditional view that folk dance takes generations to create.
Israel's first choreographers created folkdances based on no existing tradition. They worked with some basic elements--Hasidic, Balkan, Russian, Arabic, and Yemenite dance steps--but the dances they created conveyed a distinctly modern Zionist outlook. The pieces emphasized what one might call a classical Zionist ideal of returning to the land of old, of reviving the spirit of the days of the Bible, and of deepening love for the country and its landscape.