Teaching her best moves

Givatayim honors a local dance legend Bracha Zemach.

Bracha Zemach 88 298 (photo credit: )
Bracha Zemach 88 298
(photo credit: )
For the last 22 years, Bracha Zemach has made her home in a spacious white house just off Arlozorov Street in central Tel Aviv. Posters with smiling, costumed youth cover every inch of free wall space, attesting to Zemach's long and fruitful career as a dance instructor. From The Little Prince to The Jungle Book, each poster represents one of Zemach's creative adaptations and countless hours of hard work. "There would be more, but I simply ran out of space to hang them," says Zemach, gracefully straightening her long, black dress. At 64, Zemach is a strikingly beautiful woman who carries herself with a dancer's elegance. "It was my mother's dream to dance, but at that time it was a humiliating talent to have and unacceptable for a woman." Zemach, who inherited her mother's penchant for dance, was determined not to share her same fate. "I started dancing as soon as we moved to Tel Aviv. I saw Red Shoes at age five, and from then on, I knew I wanted to dance." As a young girl, Zemach took classes with Mia Arbatova, known by many as the first ballet teacher in Israel. "She was my spiritual mother, the source of my inspiration," Zemach says. But when she took a year away from dancing to study for her baccalaureate, Zemach grew too tall to continue being a ballerina. Rather than stop dancing, Arbatova encouraged Zemach to attempt other genres of performance. While serving in the army, Zemach continued to perform. "Everything I have, I had to work for myself. No one gave me an agura," she says. After the army, she opted for a career with ElAl as a flight attendant in addition to modeling, dancing and theater classes. At the time, she recalls, being a flight attendant was the only way to see the world. In an old photograph, Zemach stands in a long line with the other ElAl air hostesses, head and shoulders above every other woman. "I was always the tallest," says Zemach, who was also the only flight attendant to make the cover of La Isha. After being cast as Eliza Doolittle in the My Fair Lady musical by Shmuel Zemach, the famous impresario and producer who has been bringing stars like Frank Sinatra and Pavarotti to Israel for the last 50 years, Zemach put her career on hold for a while. "I always say that God loves me very much to have sent me Shmuel," says Zemach, "He always makes the right decisions." When they married, Shmuel, who won the Israel Prize this year for his artistic work, asked that Bracha sacrifice seven years of her career in order to have a family, and then promised to give her 77 years in exchange. "It was very difficult to spend so many years away from dancing," says Zemach. "But having three beautiful children was worth it, and Shmuel promised to help me return [to dance]." Once the seven years had passed, Arbatova encouraged Zemach to work with children and Shmuel helped her find a place to teach. For the last 30 years, Zemach has been teaching children at her own Studio Z in Givatayim, where she puts on three large productions a year. "It's a modest theater, but whatever I have has come from me alone," Zemach says. "I never got any funding, and anyone who wants to dance but can't pay simply dances and doesn't pay." On Monday, May 29, under the auspices of Mayor Effi Shtenzler, the city of Givatayim is presenting an evening of tribute and homage to Zemach for her dedication to the arts and cultural activities. Amos Ben-David will direct the music and Moshe Timor will M.C. the event. A screening of segments from the last 30 years of Zemach's work, edited by Peter Sela, will be shown and a number of famous Israeli singers like Orna and Moshe Datz, will make an appearance. "In the dance studio, the beauty of the world crystallizes," says Zemach with enthusiasm, a brilliant smile across her face. "When I'm dancing I become a better person, a stronger person, and all of the day's frustrations and aggravations simply fade away. My dream is to dance for as long as God gives me life."