Gaga for everyone

For the past several years, Saar Harari, artistic director of Gaga, the movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, has taught classes in old age homes around Israel.

SAAR HARARI goes ‘Gaga.’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
SAAR HARARI goes ‘Gaga.’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
There is a common misconception that dance classes are only for young, able-bodied people. The studio, while a completely open space, presents countless unseen hurdles for many people who fall outside the highest rungs of physical prowess. Yet it is often those people with movement limitations who have the most to gain from and the most to give to the dance world.
For the past several years, Saar Harari, artistic director of Gaga, the movement language developed by Ohad Naharin, has taught classes in old age homes around Israel. The Batsheva Dance Company, the center of Gaga practice, is synonymous with virtuosic, almost otherworldly physicality and yet, as Harari tells it, these classes were his favorites to teach.
“I was teaching at old age homes, specifically the one in Ramat Hasharon where Ohad’s mother lives. I would arrive on Thursday mornings, already beaten by the week, and I would always feel inspired. They were the best classes of the week,” he told The Jerusalem Post in a phone interview.
Harari explained that the interest in extending Gaga practice to people with movement limitations began when Naharin met with a group of Canadians who had Parkinson’s disease. “It was a really strong experience for him,” he said.
“When I was teaching the elderly, I would ask them to move their shoulder and I could see that while they thought they were doing the task, the shoulder was not moving at all. There were places that had stopped moving in the body. The main impact, as I saw it, was that the numb places were waking up and the weak places were starting to get stronger.”
Harari, 47, was born and raised in Israel. He began dancing at a young age, and following six years in the military, began creating his own work. In 2004, he moved to New York City, where he ran the LeeSaar: The Company with his partner, Lee Sher. In 2012, while still in New York, Harari was appointed manager of Gaga in the USA. It was there that Harari became aware of the work of David Leventhal, whose Dance for Parkinson’s Disease program was revolutionizing the interface between dance practitioners and people with specific movement limitations.
“What he is doing is really beautiful,” Harari said.
Then, two years ago, Harari returned to Israel to take up his current position. Now, as an integral part of the Gaga method, he oversees teacher training courses, active classes and all developments in the technique as it rapidly develops and spreads across the globe.
Nine months ago, when COVID-19 crashed into our lives, Gaga innovators quickly adapted live classes to an online platform. The team devised strategies to suit the exercises and flow of the classes, which are usually held in large studios, to the confines of city apartments. At the same time, Harari and his associates saw other ways to extend their experiences with movement limitations to the Internet. Starting next week, Gaga will offer seated classes for anyone who has difficulty standing for extended periods.
“In Gaga, we look at the limitations, that’s the door to our research. We are in constant dialogue with pain, atrophies, stiffness and blockages,” he explained. “I don’t feel the seated class is very different from the regular class. We are bringing awareness to the same things: the flow of energy through the body, the sensitivity and the silliness and joy that movement brings.”
The first Gaga seated class, on December 21, will be taught by Naharin free of charge. Following that, a number of veteran teachers will fill the Gaga seated class schedule.
“We are having weekly meetings with people teaching on the platform. We practice how to teach this way together. We have a few teachers who were teaching seated classes before everything went online. But this, the conversion to online, is really spotlighting the good teaching of Gaga,” Harari said.
“The whole methodology of teaching Gaga is evolving online. In the last few years, we tried to create regular seated classes for people, but it was always in set, steady groups. This is a great opportunity to offer it to anyone who needs and wants it.”
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