Dancing in Jerusalem

In Israel the Messiah taught me to dance. Well. That’s how it feels anyway.

Put it this way. Whether we're waiting for the first or second coming, I think we can all agree that the Mashiach must be a great dancer? I mean, most Israelis are, so…

“Mashiach, Mashiach, Mashiach!” goes the popular dance tune at any Israeli folk dancing class. I used to love the fact that, of whichever persuasion we were, all of us in the giant circle could yell that at the tops of our voices, while dancing furiously.

I always say that it’s incredible in Israel, how everybody keeps dancing, and keeps looking up, even in the worst circumstances. I love how the Chassidic dances use hand gestures as prayers.

“Amanduuuuuuuuuush!” the ‘Rikudei Am’ teacher also used to yell – at me. He was trying in a very persuasive, grinning, Sabra manner, to get me to dance ‘zugot’ (couples) as well as the freestyle circle dance. But he tried in vain, poor guy, even if his name was Boaz.

I had no desire to dance couples. I just wanted to be free to dance. Kind of like the Chassidim, down at the Kotel. The reckless abandon of King David. Any kind of interpretive dance that pointed heavenwards. The idea was that my dance could express my love for Him and His love for us.

It was not my idea.

A proper ballet dancer first got me into it. I was not a dancer by any stretch. Aged 4 and 5 my sister and I gave up ballet because we didn’t want to work on a Saturday morning! We just wanted to play! (It seems that even then we were programmed with some kind of Shabbat –keeping gene!)

At school I wasn’t the sportiest, and if you asked any of my class mates now, about me ballet dancing, even the atheists would concur that there must have been miraculous intervention.

By the age of 21 I had completely given up on the idea of dance training. I loved dance, but I didn’t think I could do it.

At the time, I was volunteering with my sister and some others at a Jerusalem coffee shop, [not on Saturday mornings!] after a busy OYP year at the Hebrew U. It was the summer of 1998 and the Old City was teeming.

We volunteers were more than work mates, however. “G-d wants everyone to dance for Him,” our balletic friend assured us. “It’s okay for you!” I thought to myself. “You’re a dancer!”

Gently taking our hands, our friend patiently led us in some simple steps and kept encouraging us that we really were dancers, deep down.  Encouragement is a wonderful thing, especially when the person dishing it out really believes what they’re saying to you!

One weekend I randomly went to a service at the YMCA, where I read a little news and events bulletin. Suddenly these words caught my eye: “Beginner’s ballet for adults as a basis for worship dance”. “For adults?” I thought, incredulously.

I had always believed that once one’s bones were fully formed, it was not a good idea to start ballet lessons! I could also not believe that someone could be willing to teach ballet with a view, not to performance, but to dance as an aid to praise. It was almost as though I’d dreamt the words.

Of course – with a [balletic] leap of faith - I rang the number on the sheet, and arranged my first lesson. To my relief, it was just me and one other lady, with the teacher, in her wooden-floored flat.

A few months after some one-to-one tuition in RAD Elementary, [my dear Watson!] my enthusiastic teacher told me to buy some pointe shoes! I’m not sure I was really ready to go en pointe, but as I mentioned earlier, encouragement does wonders!

So yes, I still have a pair of genuine pointe shoes, bought in downtown Jerusalem. Who would’ve thought it?!

One of my most precious dance memories is of a close friend’s wedding in Jerusalem, at Ramat Rachel, just a few weeks before I left the City of the Great King. The ceremony was over, and the lovely meal and everything. The only thing left to do was - to dance - of course! This is Israel!

The precious moment happened after all the fast and furious was over. Tired out - all of us on the dance floor - joined hands, to Paul Wilbur’s song, “Dance with me, O Lover of my soul, to the song of all songs”. We didn’t do anything fancy. I think we just swayed. The reference to the Shir ha Shirim (Song of Songs) was really quite perfect for the afterglow at a wedding.

When I got back to the UK, missing Israel after four years there and not finding re-entry easy, guess who I found?

You’ve guessed it: a dance leader and mentor. This amazing woman not only found me somewhere to live, but she invited me to Friday night Shabbat dinners and to her dance group! It was an Israeli type, Jews and Gentiles, all age, men and women, praise and worship dance group. You didn’t have to be a pro! I had no idea that such a thing existed in the UK!

And so the dance journey continues, even until today. Our group has even danced in synagogues in the Ukraine: the. biggest. privilege. When we danced by the Kotel once, dressed like Israeli flags, someone took a photo of us. The copy ended up for sale - on a dinner plate - in a tiny shop down the Shuk, just yards away from where my ballet dancer friend first showed us those simple steps.

So you can see now how there was clearly some kind of heavenly conspiracy to get me into dance, and why the Mashiach must have been involved. Why? He’s the one everybody’s dancing for!