Home is where the dance is

Dance teacher Arina Belozor, who has helped scores of olim take their first steps in the country, is front and center at Oleh Week.

From ‘The Crystal Shoe.’ Arina Belozor’s method takes in several styles of classical dance. (photo credit: AVIHAI BAR)
From ‘The Crystal Shoe.’ Arina Belozor’s method takes in several styles of classical dance.
(photo credit: AVIHAI BAR)
They say that art is the universal language, an efficient means for leaping across cultural and religious barriers. In Arina Belozor’s case, the art form of her choice also helped ease her entry into Israeli society.
The Russian-born Belozor made aliya in 1991 at the age of 33, and immediately began doing her bit to enhance dance education in Jerusalem. The fruits of some of those labors will be on display in the opening item of this year’s Oleh Week program, which will take place on Monday (8:30 p.m.) at the Gerard Behar Center.
Admission is free and the event will be attended by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver and Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky.
The artistic program is loaded with big names, Sabras and immigrants alike, including singers Ariel Horowitz and Ariel Zilber; Moscow-born actress-model Ania Bukstein; and leading Ethiopian artists – singer Rudy Beinsin, and jazz-blues saxophonist and vocalist Abate Berihun who, over the last 15 years or so, has become a fixture on the national entertainment scene.
Elsewhere in the Oleh Week roster, there is a tribute to internationally celebrated veteran film director and producer Menahem Golan, whose gargantuan oeuvre includes seminal oleh-based comedy Sallah Shabati, iconic 1970s musical Kazablan and Operation Thunderbolt – the latter based on the audacious 1976 Entebbe hostage release operation.
The 58-year-old Belozor is the perfect choice for the Oleh Week event. Not only did she make aliya herself, for the past 23 years she has helped scores of olim of all cultural stripes to take their first steps – literally – in their new home. “It is difficult to keep something like the Arina Belozor Dance Theater going, in a bomb shelter in Neveh Ya’acov, but I love doing this and it is very important work,” she notes.
“I began working with children with dance, and now I teach dancetheater.”
This incorporates various styles of classical dance, including ballet and character dance. “We use disciplines that they don’t teach even in the academy,” adds Belozor. “We take in choreography and mime, too.”
Belozor says she strives to attain the highest level of artistic expertise, and adopts a variety of approaches to achieve this. “I work with professional dancers and theater performers, together with the children,” she declares. “It is not an easy process, but I think it offers wonderful results; not many people do this.”
The Jerusalem dance-theater group’s Oleh Week offering is called Jewish Dance on a Mirror, and will be performed by children aged 10 and 12. The work exemplifies Belozor’s unique approach to helping children develop their artistic talents, and demands all kinds of handy skills and degrees of sensitivity. “The children dance on a mirror,” she explains. “You know you have to be very delicate when you do that, so as not to shatter the glass.”
Naturally, there is also a reflective aspect – visual and otherwise – of working with a looking glass. “The mirror involves a synthesis between two things,” says the dance teacher. “It is important to pay attention to what you do, and observe your reflection, too.”
Jewish Dance on a Mirror draws on the spirit of klezmer. “People think that klezmer is just music but dance is also an integral part of it,” says Belozor,” and, of course, joy. Once, klezmers also had to be good dancers, and to make us feel good and show us the good side of life.”
Dance has certainly shown Belozor “the good side of life,” and helped to make her – and others – feel more at home here. “I came here in 1991, and I started working with kids within four months, despite the fact that I didn’t know much Hebrew… my Hebrew is still not up to scratch,” she adds with a chuckle. “I immediately started working with new immigrant children, in Neveh Ya’acov.”
Those youngsters have, of course, grown up – and new generations of children have been put through their dance and theatrical paces by Belozor over the past two decades plus. Belozor says the activity has had a beneficial knock-on effect, in addition to helping the children develop their artistic motor skills.
“Just think how many children and youth I have helped since 1991, to set them on their way in their country,” she muses. “You know, it can be difficult for people, including children, to find their place in a new society. Some of the people I taught filled very important positions in the army, and attained a high rank. Learning dance helps to boost your confidence and your inner world, and to develop your spiritual and emotional strength. Life is hard here, but dance certainly helps.”
And the Belozor show just keeps on rolling down the road. “Some of the kids I taught have already finished the army, married and had children themselves, and they are waiting for their kids to be big enough to come to me.”
Considering she starts with four-year-olds, up to the age of 18, it shouldn’t be long now before the next generation begins cultivating its dance skills at the Arina Belozor Dance Theater.
Belozor obtained her own arts education in St. Petersburg and, she says, her learning curve involved a wide range of cultural baggage. “I studied with the very best teachers, and they took in all sorts of worlds and disciplines. I feel very blessed to have studied with them.”
That eclecticism comes through strongly in Belozor’s work. Her shows feed off a highly varied spectrum of musical directions, including rock and roll, classical, Middle Eastern, early jazz and even Japanese sounds. There is also a generous dose of humor in her creations.
“I give the children, and the audience, what I learned from my teachers – dance is love and joy.” 
Admission to the opening show is free, but pre-registration is required at 621- 1777. Other Oleh Week events will take place at Beit Avi Chai, the Romema Community Center, the First Station complex, the Gerard Behar Center and Beit Shmuel.