Going gaga

A new dance language helps people express their inner feelings.

Some people flail about wildly, others groove to the rhythm, while another spins his wheelchair and pulls pop-a-wheelies across the dance floor. To an outsider, it appears that two things are happening at the Gaga dance event in Jaffa's East-West House: There are no rules on the dance floor, and no one appears to care how foolish he or she may look. In fact, those who look the most foolish seem to be having the most fun. More than 100 people came to boogie at the let-loose dance party, a freestyle version of Ohad Naharin's self-composed dance language known as Gaga. Participation in a guided session earlier that evening was limited to 20. The approach, originally called "a movement language," is used by both the Bat Sheva dance company (choreographed by Naharin) and laymen - people who want to enjoy free dance expression led by one of Israel's dance greats. Naharin, a dancer in his own right, was approached seven years ago by one of Bat Sheva's marketing team who was eager to learn some of the Bat Sheva dancers' techniques. Twice a week for 45 minutes in Jerusalem, Naharin gave instruction to the office co-workers who, for the most part, had no formal training in dance. He was instructing Bat Sheva dancers concurrently, and the result was a unique feedback tool to enhance what Naharin was exploring in his professional world. "The result was amazing for them and me," says Naharin of the early days. Four years later he decided to give his dance language a name, calling it Gaga, "like baby talk," and opened his doors to the public. "I don't go a day without doing it myself," says Naharin. One participant at the Jaffa Gaga party in August, Ya'acov Teppler, said that when he dances Gaga, "It feels like being an embryo - like touching the ground." Sometimes, says Teppler, dancers are guided to dance on the floor in a primal position. He has been attending Gaga sessions for about two years and enjoys it most when Naharin leads the group. Otherwise, instruction is given by one of a dozen different dancers, most from the Bat Sheva company. Teppler is hooked on Gaga. "I'm a Gaga man," he says. Like many other participants, he couldn't say exactly what Gaga is. "I learn from the instructors in a mysterious way Ohad is defining the physical language to help you look inside your body." Having dabbled in other movement methods, such as tai chi, Teppler found that Gaga gives him the mixture of what he wanted. Unlike other popular modern dance methods such as contact improvisation, where Teppler would need to dance with partners, in the Gaga format he is only responsible for himself. Besides contact improvisation, Gaga can be contrasted with the Israeli homegrown movement technique Feldenkrais. The difference between Feldenkrais and Gaga, Naharin explains, is that Gaga requires stamina and strength. "You will get a workout," he says. "We need to strengthen our bodies physically when we discover our weaknesses." There were many first-time Gaga explorers at the party, such as Rivi Nissim - a dancer (and proprietor of the website www.bodyways.org) - and Kochava Bracha, a teacher of the Paula method. Bracha, who teaches people the healing benefits of exercising their ring muscles (or sphincters), came out of curiosity. It took her a couple of hours until the music suited her taste, but when it finally did she emerged from the dance hall with a huge smile. Nissim is well known among Israel's dance world for her website that brings together dancers, artists, and people working in the area of movement. For her, Gaga gives skilled teachers and performers the opportunity to meet face to face in expressive ways with the body. A dancer since childhood, Nissim has been looking for a framework to dance in rather than a style she has to conform to. Gaga seems to be able to provide what she needs. Compared to the other dance techniques she has tried, a Gaga lesson gave her the chance to express and improvise movement with all parts of her body. This allows one to hear from within, she says - unlike contact dancing, which is about communication with partners and the influencing element of touch. Although it was Nissim's first time at a Gaga gig, she thinks people like the method because it allows them to be children at play. "The body communicates much faster than words," she says. Although the language has been used in the public sphere for about seven years, Gaga started taking form 20 years ago when Naharin was suffering through vertebrae damage and a paralysis of his left leg. "I wasn't supposed to be dancing," he says, but through a lot of rehabilitation, including a fusion of methods such as Pilates, yoga, and tai chi, he started healing himself. "I was visiting those methods and was never addicted or very serious about any one approach," he says. He used the parts of them "that met in the middle to help me develop my way of movement and dealing with my injury." Beyond healing his body, Naharin says that he controls his sanity through movement. About three years ago, Naharin opened Gaga sessions to the public while training a pool of dancers to instruct in his place. Nowadays, a Gaga class is held almost every day of the week, either at Bat Sheva's home - the Suzanne Dellal dance center in Tel Aviv - or the Vertigo dance company in Jerusalem. Groups are split into dancers and non-dancers, although Naharin doesn't think there is such a thing as a non-dancer, and corrects himself. "When I say 'non-dancer,' I mean people who don't aspire to be dancers on stage." Naharin believes that people learn to love themselves better through Gaga because it allows them to meet their limitations. At this point people can find out where they are blocked, stiff, or feel awkward. "Gaga is about you and yourself facing the universe. When you face it, you can do so without feeling bad or being ashamed," he says. As Gaga unfolds, Naharin and his followers are careful not to call it a technique, which implies something fixed and developed. They prefer to call Gaga a language, suggesting that it has a life of its own. Wanna go Gaga? Call Yossi at 0528-828515 for more details.