Photo Credit: Rebecca Kowalsky
Dames of the Dance

In Gush Etzion, there are hundreds of women who each year for the past decade have devoted four months of their time to a project they say has brought as much joy to the participants as it does to the audience once it hits the stage.

And in less than three weeks, the’Dames of the Dance’ are scheduled to take to the stage for the tenth year in a row.

‘Dames of the Dance’
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The project began with the winter’s cold, when the members of the Matnas Efrat dance group were at one of their night sessions in the winter of 2007. While preparing to learn the latest step with Judy Kizer, some of them started to wonder how the rest of the community was managing in the unusually frigid weather: specifically, how were the needy among them dealing with the cold.

“Most people think of Efrat and Gush Etzion as wealthy communities,” says local activist Sharon Katz, “but they don’t realize that just like everywhere else, there are needy families here too. Businesses close, folks lose their jobs, health issues and personal problems come up, and they prevent people from working.”

Katz remembers that once they got past the weather, everyone that night was talking about how much they loved to dance and how much fun they were having – so much so, that Katz decided to organize community dance groups from across the region in a dance for charity to help the needy in their communities.

Thus was born the “Dames of the Dance.” That was ten years ago.

This year ‘Dames’ will introduce an exciting new high-energy dance style choreographed by Bati Katz and Shifra Penkower. And in addition to helping needy families, for the first time ‘Dames’ will contribute to a future IDF Lone Soldiers’ Home in Gush Etzion.

‘Dames of the Dance’

Tap, jazz, modern, ballet, hip hop, 60s, Mizrahi, Israeli folk dance, theater dance, rhythm and romp – you name it – ‘Dames of the Dance’ has done it and more, all to perform for those less fortunate, and other important projects in the region.

“Choreography advisers Jocelyn Odenheimer and Judy Kizer review all the dances, and are always available to provide advice to any of the groups,” Katz says.

“Some of the dancers are ‘regular folks’ but there are also ballerinas who returned to dance after they became religious,” says Odenheimer. “Some are modern dancers who gave up their careers when they became mothers, others were Israeli folk dancers who haven’t been on the dance floor since they were young.”

Some of the ‘Dames’ are as young as age 10, taught by Tzila Lensky. Some are as old as 70 – or older – and in one show, there was a former Broadway dancer who was 90 years old. Bati Katz, who joined ‘Dames One’ at age 15, says she “grew up” in the troupe. Today, she’s an associate producer of the show.

Na’amit Leavitt, Dames’ costume coordinator and Mizrahi choreographer, moves easily from Hebrew to English and back again depending on which of the dancers she’s addressing. “There’s no pressure in Dames,” she says. “There’s only working together to create the best show possible. It’s the best of Israel in miniature: kindness, chesed, sisterhood.”

Odenheimer danced in musical theater and with various dance troupes on both the East and West Coasts of the United States. Lensky studied classical and modern ballet in Riga, Latvia. She danced with youth and national choreography groups as well.

“The highlight of my year is the ‘Dames’ season,” says Kizer. “Each one of us is excited to be giving our time and giving from our hearts to our community.”

Cheryl Mandel, the show’s associate producer and most veteran choreographer, created her first dance for the production in Dames’ One, paralleling her 60th birthday with the 60th birthday of the State of Israel. Today at 70, Mandel is still giving it her “all.” She says it’s something “very empowering to show our children and the next generation.” Likewise photographer Rebecca Kowalsky, who made sure that every production has been created on beautiful images since Dames One. She, too, has also been there for every single show.

This year’s performance of Dames of the Dance is set for Monday, Feb 19. A second performance is set for Wednesday Feb. 21, with a matinee set for Monday, Feb. 26. Ticket may be ordered at: http://tixwise.co.il/he/damesofthedance or by calling 02-993-2936.

Note: This show is FOR WOMEN ONLY.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.