The Torch explores gender and religion in the Jewish community. Named for Deborah the Prophetess, "the woman of torches," the blog highlights the passion and fiery leadership of Jewish feminists, while evoking the powerful image of feminists "passing the torch" to a new generation. Disclaimer: All posts are contributed by third party authors. JOFA does not assume responsibility for the facts and opinions presented in them.
Believe me, I wish I did, but I have no choice but to dance.
It is amazing how many fellow dancers throughout my career have expressed and mirrored these sentiments to me. The grueling path of the dancer is not an easy one. There is no security, little pay, little work and even less work that is satisfying or dignifying. It is a wiring of the soul to crave expression through the honest, direct, and ultimately vulnerable body. Anyone who has fallen in love with dance knows of the heart breaks that come just as frequently as the overwhelming love. To truly dance is the highest gift and does not come without its challenges.
Now imagine how many more challenges are piled on for someone from a religious Jewish community. All communities differ in their applied practices of halakha, yet the main statutes are strong:
- No touching the opposite gender. Forget dancing with men in a company, forget partner work.
- Observing Shabbat, holidays, and fast days. Forget weekend performances…good luck going to an audition and saying you won’t be available for performances on Friday nights and Saturday
- Modest dress. Bye bye leotards!
- Keeping kosher. Good luck keeping kosher during company group meals on your tour to Bangkok.
- Modest actions, which means not performing for men who may succumb to objectifying you as sexual fantasy. So there goes half your audience and any competitive performance in any serious theater.
Add to this, all of the social realities that are present in many secular communities, but are further magnified in the Orthodox community. It is improper to be a “performer.” Dance is not a career, you cannot be a good wife and a good mother and live this kind of life. And the comments go on and on.
Most Orthodox communities do not respect dance as a realistic option for one’s life path (unless it is to teach dance to children who will only ever dance in a studio or teach other children and will never perform on stage). Most Orthodox communities have little or no structures that would allow the art form to be taken seriously. Dance is, more often than not, strictly a hobby that girls engage in before their Bat Mitzvah. Forget boys who show promise, and forget any professional aspirations. In many communities, a career as a dancer simply sounds impossible. Of course there are beautiful exceptions, but this is the general rule.
How can a person who shows promise and passion for this art form ever hope to self-actualize and share their skills and also continue to stay involved in a religious community and maintain an observant way of life?
Nehara Dance Group
Founded in 2012 by Artistic Director, Daniella Bloch, Nehara is a one of a kind Israeli dance company that features professional dancers who are also religious women. The group maintains the highest standards of artistry and professionalism, performing for mixed audiences, and participating in the arts community in Israel and abroad, all while maintaining a sensitivity to modesty, Shabbat observance, intention of the work, and mother-friendly environments. It is the first of its kind and is making waves in both the Israeli artistic and religious communities – something that makes it quite unique indeed.
Now, Nehara is not only considered revolutionary for the caliber and quality of its dancers, it also encourages social activism through education and the mixed populations it attracts in its audience. Usually one would never find a secular Israeli from Tel Aviv willingly sitting next to a religious Zionist, yet this happens at every Nehara show! The performances bring different factions of Israeli society together in order to enjoy an art form that transcends politics, borders and “truths” while speaking to one’s deeper soul.
Nehara Dance Group has brought its unique voice all over Israel and Europe. Now, more than ever, presenting the world with a pluralistic and creative face of Israel will do wonders for Israel and for those who dream to one day express themselves through dance.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.