Jewish Journal


May 17, 2007

Dancing with my dad—and David Dassa


A Rikud weekend has participants dancing for days. Photo by Yoav Epstein

A Rikud weekend has participants dancing for days. Photo by Yoav Epstein

Perhaps only in Israeli folk dancing circles can a 17-year-old high schooler mingle comfortably with a 52-year-old podiatrist. Probably only at Israeli folk dance camps can people dance 20 hours in a 24 hour period. And for Rikud, which offers just that kind of experience, there is a waiting list every year.

Rikud is the largest and longest-running Israeli folk dance camp in the United States, and it takes place every year on Memorial Day weekend at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu. More than 300 dancers from around the world pack into the beachside summer-camp facility for three days of non-stop dancing.

This is Rikud's 28th year, and it begins the afternoon of May 25 with an outdoor dance warm-up. Then comes a song-filled communal Kiddush and Shabbat dinner, followed by a folk-dance session during which circle, couple and line dances are played in what's called "open dancing."

Saturday and Sunday are spent learning new dances taught by the choreographers who created them, and there are barbecue lunches, afternoon leisure time at the pool and organized activities, including a talent show with real and imagined talent.

Each night, dance marathons get progressively longer, with the most fervent dancers doing the yemenite step until breakfast on Monday.

The camp concludes with a review of the 25 or so dances taught throughout the weekend -- for those who are still standing.

The choreographers headlining this year's camp, all of whom are adored like rock stars in their field, are Gadi Bitton, Rafi Ziv and Yaron Carmel from Israel; Carena Saslovsky from Mexico; Nona Malki from Canada; and Naftaly Kadosh from New York.

Full disclosure: Naftaly is my father and he is considered by many to be one of the most respected choreographers in Israeli folk dancing. This will be his first time at Rikud. For about 25 percent of the attendees, it will be their first time as well.

"We have an incredibly high return rate," said David Dassa, the director of the camp and son of Los Angeles folk dance icon Danny Dassa of Cafe Danssa fame.

Dassa is thrilled that so many dancers return year after year, but acknowledges that the new faces are what keep the camp fresh.

High schoolers, introduced to Israeli folk dancing by Dassa's youth programs at schools and summer camps, are often the greenest of the crowd. Though they certainly inject Rikud with youthful exuberance, Dassa is strict about limiting their number to between 20 and 25. "I choose the kids that are most passionate about dancing and can handle the adult atmosphere," Dassa said. "I could take many more, but that would annoy everyone else."

"Everyone else" is an extremely diverse bunch, Dassa said: 60 percent are Israeli-born, 20 percent come from out of state, ages range from early teens to late 70s, and dance experience varies from just a couple of months to 40-plus years.

I've been dancing since the age of 3, but I started attending weekly dance sessions on a regular basis only two years ago. This will be my third time attending Rikud, and perhaps my 25th Israeli folk dance camp (I've been to many with my dad). The weekend is one of the highlights of my year.

Until you've experienced it for yourself, you simply cannot imagine how 70 hours of dancing can leave you feeling so completely satisfied, so utterly exhausted and so fundamentally Jewish.

The fee to attend is $175 for students and up to $450 for a private room.

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