A beautiful sisterhood of dancers

Dames of the Dance (photo credit: REBECCA KOLWALSKY)
Dames of the Dance
(photo credit: REBECCA KOLWALSKY)
It all started with a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
Ten years later, Dames of the Dance is an exquisite four-stranded tapestry that weaves together Jewish women’s sisterhood, raising money for charity, the personal dynamism of a woman named Sharon Katz and, of course, dance.
In 2005, Katz enrolled in tap-dancing classes to combat a diagnosis of osteoporosis.
Around the same time, despite its reputation for relative affluence, she learned that there were hundreds of families in Gush Etzion living below the poverty line.
With her trademark cocktail of creative thinking and can-do spirit, Katz merged the desire to help her needy neighbors with her new interest in dance and announced, “Let’s put on a show.”
In 2007, she founded Dames of the Dance – a variety dance show for women that has already raised NIS 310,000 for charity.
Every year, it’s a different show. Each production of Dames of the Dance is built on a theme, expressed through its music and choreography. Previous shows were based on the themes of Passover, the seven days of creation, Israel as the Promised Land, miracles, Eshet Hayil – a tribute to women, celebration and unity.
The two upcoming shows, scheduled for November 29 in Gush Etzion and November 30 in Jerusalem, are encore performances of last year’s unity-themed show, with some surprises folded into the lineup. The upcoming Dames of the Dance shows will include performances in Israeli folk dance, Mizrahi belly dancing, jazz, Broadway, modern ballet, hip hop, tap and other dance styles.
Jocelyn Odenheimer and Judy Kizer are the show’s main choreographic advisors. Other choreographers include Rachel Baruch, Ruti Ben David, Yehudit Hirsch, Sara Orenstein, Raquella Raiz, Michele Sandler, Joanne Simanowitz, Tamara Spitz, Moriah Turner and Keren Twizer.
Odenheimer told In Jerusalem that the dancers, who range in age from seven to 70, “are mostly just regular folks, not Broadway-trained dancers.” Some of the dancers were ballerinas years ago or they were women who used to dance for mixed audiences and are now religious and prefer to dance for women-only audiences. These dancers are thrilled to have an audience once again. Others, according to Katz, are “regular people on stage who try and dance with their hearts and their smiles.”
Katz says “women give hundreds of hours,” to develop their dance numbers, to rehearse, to design costumes and T-shirts, to sell tickets and more. What motivates them? According to Odenheimer, “It’s all Sharon. She’s amazing.
It’s all her doing. She’s an amazing producer.
She’s just a real impresario.
Incredibly motivated. She knows how to sell tickets. How to inspire people to participate.”
Odenheimer offers a shout-out to the husbands of the women involved in the Dames of the Dance for their support and help with child care, homework assistance and meal preparation during frequent rehearsals. Since performances are for women only, the husbands do all this, even knowing that they won’t get to see the shows. Nevertheless, the spirit of helping others includes lots of supportive family members behind the scenes.
For Katz, the motivation to participate lies in things she hears the dancers say.
“My dance has meaning,” or “I want to put on a fantastic show,” or “I want to help other people.” Participating helps everyone to “feel so good about themselves.”
Although most of the money raised in the past has gone to feed the hungry of Gush Etzion, the two upcoming performances are dedicated to two different, equally compelling causes.
Proceeds from the November 29 show at the community center in Gush Etzion will go to help build a pathway for the schoolchildren of Gush Etzion, to make it possible for them to walk between school and their bus stop more safely.
Katz describes Gush Etzion as “a closeknit community that has seen more than its share of tragedy.”
The planned Boys’ Promenade in memory of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrach will include the bus stop where Dalia Lemkus was stabbed to death in 2014 and from where the three boys were kidnapped, also in 2014. The path will begin in Rosh Tzurim and continue to the intersection of Alon Shvut.
Students at Ulpanat Rosh Tzurim, Ulpanat Neve Chana, Ulpanat Oriya and other nearby schools will benefit immediately.
The money raised at the Jerusalem- based show at the Jerusalem Theater on Monday, November 30 will support the Gush Katif bridal project. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the project, which provides a package of household goods to assist new couples from Gush Katif who are just beginning their lives together.
There are people from the 2005 disengagement from Gush Katif who are still unemployed, underemployed or without permanent homes. Even 10 years later, Katz says, “We want to let them know that Am Yisrael [the Jewish people] didn’t forget them.” One of the performances last year was also devoted to the Gush Katif bridal project, which has helped over 1,200 couples begin their married lives with dignity. That performance alone raised NIS 50,000.
While the various dance troupes that will perform in Dames of the Dance come from all over Gush Etzion and, for the upcoming shows, from Ramat Bet Shemesh and Kedumim, the initiative for Dames of the Dance clearly springs from Anglo women. According to Odenheimer, the language of planning meetings is predominantly English, with a bit of Hebrew mixed in. She estimates that up to 40 percent of the women involved in Dames of the Dance made aliya from English-speaking countries.
What motivates Odenheimer, who has been involved since the beginning, to stay so involved in the Dames of the Dance? “I love to dance. I’m a dancer. And I love Sharon. She’s amazing. She is so enthusiastic and she has so much charisma to involve people.
It’s fun to be part of something that helps others and uses skills that you have.”
Those who have seen a performance know what an adventure it is. To those who have never been, Odenheimer encourages, “Definitely come! Just supporting these great causes is worthwhile. And the music, the dance, the atmosphere, the people are so inspiring.
It’s great for a mother- daughter outing. Perfect for grandmothers, aunts, nieces to come together. It’s a big women’s gathering. It’s great women’s community theater and it’s so nice to give young women the chance to get out there to do their thing on stage. Friends have come to shows without knowing what to expect and they leave the performance so happy and proud.” With a heart full of pride in the dancers, Katz says, “They fly over the stage and dance with love.”
How could you not want to be a part of that? •
The Gush Etzion show to benefit the Boys’ Promenade:
November 29 at 8 p.m. at the Gush Etzion Community Center; the Jerusalem show to benefit Gush Katif brides: November 30 at 8 p.m. in the Rebecca Crowne Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theater. Tickets: damesofthedance2015@gmail.com or 054-453-4583.