Israeli folk dance
In the communal and religious life of the Jewish people, dance has been regarded as an expression of joy and sorrow since biblical times and is today an integral part of religious, national, community and family celebrations. Contemporary dance has developed in two directions: expansion of the folk dance genre which accompanied the early settlers in the rebuilding of their ancient homeland; and the establishment of art dance, leading to stage productions created by professional choreographers and performed by trained dancers.
Israeli folk dance emerged as an amalgam of Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance forms from many parts of the world. While in other countries folk dance is fostered to preserve old rural traditions, in Israel it is a constantly developing art form which has evolved since the 1940s, based on historic and modern sources as well as on biblical associations and contemporary dance styles.
The early pioneers, who exchanged urban life in Eastern Europe for rural life in a collective setting, brought with them native dances which were adapted to their new milieu. Among them, a Romanien dance, the hora, typified the new life being built in the Land of Israel: its closed circle from gave equal status to all participants, simple movements enabled everyone to take part and the linked arms symbolised the new ideology. Today it remains the representative Israeli dance, performed on occasions from street dancing on Independence Day to social gatherings.
The turning point in local folk dance development occurred at the first folk dance festival held at Kibbutz Dalia in 1944. Widespread enthusiasm for dance followed, bringing with it the creation of a multifaceted folk dance genre characterised by a combination of styles and sources. Incorporated in it are Diaspora Jewish motives and local traditions, including the Arab debka, a foot-stamping dance of men linked in a row, as well as dance elements ranging from North American jazz and Latin American rhythms to the cadences typical of Mediterranean countries.
The country's folk dances, most of which are set to popular Israeli songs, comprise a great variety of steps and forms, juxtaposed with exuberant movement, expressing the vitality and vivaciousness of a young country with an old tradition. Folk dance manifests itself both trough individual participation and stage performances. Public enthusiasm for folk dancing has led to the emergence of the professional dance leader and to thousands of people participating regularly in dance activities as a recreational outlet. Many localities offer weekly folk dancing, with some of them sponsoring performing ensembles as well.
Alongside Israeli folk dance, traditional dances of the different ethnic groups, which reflect both the "ingathering of the exiles" and the pluralistic nature of Israel's society. They are preserved by a number of troupes specialising in the dances of Yemen, Kurdistan, North Africa, India, Georgia, Bukhara and Ethiopia, and by ensembles which perform Arab, Druze and Circassian dances.
Folk dance troupes appear at most local and national celebrations, and perform at local and international festivals. Since 1988, a three-day international folk dance festival has been held annually at Karmiel, a town in central Galilee, with the participation of troupes from Israel and around the world.