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(photo credit: Nathan Burstein)
Maya Amitai already had plans to perform at dance auditions in Europe when she got the call about Nolad Lirkod (Born to Dance), the hit TV dance competition that made her a familiar face, if not quite a star, earlier this year. The 21-year-old dancer from Jerusalem found another reason to stay in Israel this spring when she was added to the list of dancers who will perform alongside pop diva Rita at "One," the anticipated song-and-dance extravaganza that opens next week in Tel Aviv.
Now a resident of Tel Aviv, Amitai describes her experience working with Rita as "perfect," adding that "it's been a long time since I had this much fun in rehearsals."
That's a good thing, because most of her life these days is taken up by rehearsals, with the Nolad Lirkod runner-up spending eight hours a day, six days a week since April getting ready for the concert series. That grueling scheduling just became even more brutal, with the dancer now working up to 12 hours a day on the Rita show - in addition to her normal job teaching Pilates and dance at a Tel Aviv fitness club.
But she wasn't too tired on a Sunday night last month to head out to a Tel Aviv club in support of one of her newest friends, the singer and television personality Michal Amdurski, who was launching her nightly behind-the-scenes program about Ha'alufa, the HOT 3 soap opera which began airing earlier this year. Amdurksi, of course, created something of a national catchphrase during the run of Nolad Lirkod by telling contestants, including Amitai, that they had performed "big time!" in their last dance.
Pretty but unassuming, the curly-haired Amitai remained just one in a crowd at the Ha'alufa event - that is, predictably, until people starting dancing. She says she now feels other people's eyes on her when she goes out clubbing with friends, and says she sometimes feels frustrated by people who assume she has a "high opinion of [herself] because I was on TV." "It's a bit offensive," she says, sitting in a Tel Aviv coffee shop, "because I don't think I'm any better just because they weren't there."
With "One," Amitai joins a growing number of Israeli reality performers who've parlayed their initial television success into something longer term. She'll be joined in the show by Or Kahlon, Nolad Lirkod's 18-year-old winner, and says the two have remained friendly in the months since the show ended.
Working with Rita has been "an honor," she says. Both performers served in the army as entertainers, and Amitai says her work with the 44-year-old singer has been an inspiration. "Rita is absolutely amazing, she is such a talent," she says. "She can do everything - she can dance, I don't have to tell you she can sing amazingly. [But] she's very modest and warm, and very nice to work with."
Dance, Amitai says, remains an "impossible" way to make a living in Israel, though she says she's been given new hope by Rita's first-of-its-kind series. She doesn't have anything lined up for after "One" finishes in August, but says she's now more optimistic about finding something at home. "If I didn't have anything else to look for here [in dance], I would go," she says. "But now I feel more like I'll find something interesting." - N.B.