Dance: The voice of mothers

Dege Feder presents her dance piece ‘Amedja’ at the Hullegeb Festival.

December 8, 2016 18:17
3 minute read.

‘Amedja’. (photo credit: GADI DAGON)

‘Our mothers, they have power and magic that is hard to explain. Their presence… they come from a different world completely, like an imaginary world. Just to see how they move, talk, their body language, how they describe things…” says choreographer Dege Feder. Mothers served as a major inspiration for the artist’s newest creation, Amedja, which will premiere next week as part of the seventh annual Hullegeb Israeli- Ethiopian Arts Festival in Jerusalem.

“Armija means ‘steps’ in Amharic,” Feder explains. “The piece is based on the steps of the Tigri tribe. We see a lot of characters flying through the space with those steps. Each time someone else leads, like a flock of birds, where someone else leads the group each time. Occasionally there is a break from the group, and there is a reaction of the group. Sometimes it is dramatic, sometimes it is about freedom,” she says.

“Each dancer responds differently,” she continues. “We are making live sound, the sounds our mothers make. We made it into music that we perform live, and we dance to that. We took the sounds we hear at home, in our community. They are sounds that people make as a response to something that is happening, and they characterize our community. If you hear those sounds, it’s a sign that you’re Ethiopian. We are bringing that from home. It’s very cool to make that sound, which creates a rhythm and to dance to that rhythm.”

Feder, 38, was born in the Gondar district of Ethiopia, in a village called Wozaba. At age six, as part of Operation Moses, she traveled with her family to the border of Sudan. After some time, she entered Israel, where she lived with her grandmother in Beersheba. After several relocations with different family members, Feder was reunited with her immediate family in Tiberias.

Today, she is the choreographer and manager of the Beta Dance Troupe, a Haifa-based company dedicated to providing a platform for Ethiopian-Israeli dance artists.

She is the mother of a nine-year-old daughter.

“I am very inspired by my daughter. To look at kids and their movement, it is intuitive movement, I’m just jealous. We lose so much on the way as we grow older, in art, in movement. When you start to work with your head, things look different and we lose the magic. I get a lot of inspiration from her. Being a mother and a daughter of a mother, it really influences my work,” she explains.

For Feder, who often finds herself surrounded by women, the foray into the language of mothers and daughters brought on a sudden gust of emotion and inspiration.

“I think that the connection to images of femininity and female power brought up a different feel for us. The dancers go through many different emotions and situations in the piece. They are completely in it, they give themselves over to respond to many different feelings,” she says.

Presenting Armija at the Hullegeb Festival brings Feder a great deal of joy, as well as a twinge of frustration. Although she is well known in her own community, she has found it very difficult to break into the mainstream dance community in Israel.

“The fact is that this festival is separate because it is very distinct, Israeli-Ethiopian. We don’t have platforms that give voice to us, aside from this. This platform provides exposure and support,” she says.

“It’s very hard to get into the mainstream niche. I very much want to be part of the contemporary dance community in Israel. I think we are special because of our unique language, because of our combination of folk and modern dance. It doesn’t mean we don’t need to be in the mainstream platforms. It doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough,” she asserts.

‘Armija’ will be performed on December 20 at 9 p.m. at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem. For tickets, go to

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