A dance renaissance?

Choreographer Raquella Siegel is on a mission to prove that Judaism and hip-hop can blend

hip hop dance class (photo credit: Lidor David)
hip hop dance class
(photo credit: Lidor David)
F or most, hip-hop dance is not what comes to mind when one thinks of Israel, particularly within the religious world. However, throughout the country and specifically within Jerusalem’s growing arts scene, this creative form of dance is show- ing a bold presence.
Raquella Siegel, an immigrant from Teaneck, New Jer- sey, has taken her love for hip-hop dance and carried it into her new life here as an Israeli. Dance was a central part of her upbringing in Teaneck, and her leadership skills grew as she became more involved in the hip-hop community. Starting as early as sixth grade, choreo- graphing dance routines came naturally to her.
“I seamlessly fell into the position of choreographer and have been creating hip-hop dances since then,” she says. “I now teach hip-hop dance to hundreds of girls weekly all over the Jerusalem area.”
After graduating from a Jewish high school, she par- ticipated in a year-long seminary program in Israel, where she began tying her passions for hip-hop and Judaism together.
“After high school, I went to Machon Gold, a semi- nary in Jerusalem, for a year. That was when I discovered my love of Israel,” she says. “I stayed afterward and did sherut leumi [national service] in a dance studio. There, I heard about Orot Israel College and their dance pro- gram. The moment I started the four-year program in Orot, I realized I would spend the rest of my profession- al career connecting hip-hop with my Jewish beliefs.”
Siegel made the bold decision to make aliya shortly after her positive seminary experience.
“When I finally came for a full year, I just could- n’t see myself living anywhere else. I knew I was home,” she says.
Specifically reaching out to the religious communi- ty, she has set herself the goal of exposing Orthodox girls to hip-hop dance in a respectful and fun way.
Since the Jerusalem Orthodox community has not traditionally been involved in such fields, this has been a challenging yet enjoyable experience for her and her partners.
“My goals are to create a safe environment where reli- gious girls can feel comfortable dancing without the pressure of men watching, or dancing in an uncom- fortable way that hip-hop sometimes suggests,” she explains. “In my classes, whether the girls are religious or not, I like to use songs without curses.”
Her conscious efforts to create a welcoming and safe environment for all participants have initiat- ed significant progress in the local dance world, and her history with dance and understanding of Jerusalem culture have made her the perfect leader in this movement.
“It has been incredibly successful so far, and I am so appreciative and proud of all the work that I have been involved in,” she comments. “Just last month, on Elec- tion Day, my partner Shaked Avisar and I organized a ‘Day of Hip-Hop for Girls,’ where more than 100 dancers participated in dance workshops and perform- ances. Each girl left with a funky sweatshirt and lots of fun memories. We are planning another hip-hop dance competition after Passover. We have no doubt that plenty of groups are waiting in anticipation to join, because there are no competitions for girls.”
The girls are eager to learn from her and be around her positive and supportive energy.
“You get to add your own style and attitude while learning a dance routine to a fun, upbeat song,” Siegel says. “I think religious girls get into hip-hop for the same reason non-religious girls do. Hip-hop dance is hot right now.”
Perhaps surprisingly her movement has received little backlash from the Orthodox community. Parents are enthused to see their children involved and active in such a creative extracurricular activity.
“The Orthodox community has actually welcomed hip-hop with open arms,” she says. “The haredi [ultra- Orthodox] community has included hip-hop on the condition that the music has no words. Parents have been very supportive and enjoy watching their children strive in the hip-hop dance genre.”
As a new immigrant, she feels inspired by the already thriving Israeli dance scene. With world-famous dance companies like Batsheva, the country has taken a lead- ing role in the modern dance world. The hip-hop scene here, however, is still developing.
“Jerusalem definitely has a ways to go in the hip-hop realm, but that is what I’m here for!” she declares.