At Camp Rikud, David Dassa’s annual Israeli folk dance weekend at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu, there is always a talent show on the last night.
Many of the performers are painfully embarrassing to watch and leave you wondering how anyone could be so lacking in self-awareness. Like the high school girl who performed a slightly odd dance number in a loose strapless shirt that kept sliding down every time she turned, jumped or twirled. The performance was dangerously close to becoming a peep show and the audience was more preoccupied with gasping and giggling at the near-wardrobe malfunction than with the young girl’s awkward movements - which in the end, turned out fine for everyone: the audience was entertained and the girl was the talk of the night.
But the R-rated dance was not the performance that most accurately exemplifies the essence of an Israeli folk dance camp, although many Israelis, including my fiance, are convinced that the dance weekends resemble something out of “Dirty Dancing” - young girls being seduced by dance instructors, older married women having weekend flings, steamy late night dance parties in the staff quarters… I’ll get back to those scandalizing half-myths in a second.
A song sung by a veteran dancer, who actually has some musical talent, could very well be Rikud’s anthem. A few lines into the song, the 250-person audience began singing along:
“I could have danced all night!
I could have danced all night!
And still have begged for more.
I could have spread my wings
And done a thousand things I’ve never done before.
I’ll never know what made it so exciting.
Why all at once my heart took flight.
I only know when he
began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced all night!”
That’s how it feels to be at an Israeli folk dance camp: exhilarating.
The camp, which starts on Friday afternoon every year on Memorial Day weekend and ends on Monday afternoon, is one long dance marathon, broken up by meals and a few other activities: the talent show, havdallah, melaveh malka. Dancers learn new dances all day during teaching sessions taught by Israeli choreographers and every night, an open dance session lasts into the morning hours. On the last night, Sunday night, the session goes until 8 or 9 a.m. the next morning - hence the “I could have danced all night” anthem.
There are several other Israeli dance camps in the United States throughout the year and the people who attend them vary greatly: most are American, but many are Israeli. The age varies too - more so at Rikud where there is always a large group of high schoolers who David Dassa teaches as well as a large contingency of young dancers he cultivates. There are beginners and dancers who have been dancing for 30 years. People come from Israel, Canada, South America, Mexico and the East Coast to dance at Rikud.
There are those that come seeking romance. And there are people who are rumored to be having extramarital affairs. Sitting on the sidelines, you could probably spot a few smoldering looks exchanged between dance partners or glimpse a couple sneaking off towards the bungalows. There are definitely whispers about the revered Israeli choreographers (the rock stars of the Israeli folk dance world) taking advantage of their sway with female dancers. However, that kind of activity for which Israeli folk dancing is often stigmatized in Israeli culture, is a minor part of the dance experience. And, it’s natural. After all, dancing is a social activity where people connect in many ways.
I met my fiance at an Israeli folk dance session, though he danced only briefly. One of my best friends, Anita, who will be a bridesmaid at my wedding, is someone I became close to at David’s weekly dance sessions. My fiance’s brothers became business partners with someone they met through dancing. There are numerous siblings and husbands and wives whose bond is strengthened by this shared activity.
Once a year, these avid dancers from around the world gather at Rikud to share their passion, to connect with one another, and to dance, dance, dance all night!