Her Roots Are Tangled in Folk Dance and Israel

Her Roots Are Tangled in Folk Dance and Israel

A couple of weeks before the premiere, Ms. Ahuvia spoke about the work’s evolution. Below are edited excerpts from that conversation.

Was folk dancing a big part of your life growing up?

It became a bigger part of my life when we moved back to Florida. It was one way of staying connected to Israel. My mom had been a folk dancer, semiprofessionally. We went to weekly gatherings at the JCC [Jewish Community Center], and when we moved to Hawaii, joined another gathering there.


Heel, Toe, Heel, Toe

In this excerpt from “Everything you have is yours?” Mor Mendel and Hadar Ahuvia demonstrate folk dance steps as seen in a video.

By TATYANA TENENBAUM on Publish Date February 6, 2018.


What inspired this piece?

Before this piece I made a solo that was returning to the dances in a more emotional way; it was more about my relationship to them. I talked at the time about making these dances and songs face the Nakba, which is what Palestinians call the founding of the state of Israel. [Nakba is the Arabic word for “catastrophe.”] How could I hold onto my heritage and also this other reality? I wasn’t really looking at how the dances were constructed. This piece came out of wanting to investigate that more deeply.

I knew the dances were an integral part of this Zionist enterprise, and you could see that in a liberatory way or see some of the colonial mechanisms in it. I was looking for a way to communicate that.

One issue you explore is cultural appropriation, how the pioneers of Israeli folk dance, mostly Eastern European women, drew from social dance forms like Palestinian dabke.

It’s well-documented that these women went to Palestinian villages and watched them dancing and felt they held the steps for what new Israeli dances could be. And so they borrowed steps and wrote new music and created dances that were directly synchronous to the new music, and in this way it becomes a new Israeli dance.


Ms. Ahuvia, left, and Ms. Mendel with vintage footage of dancers in Israel.

Andrew White for The New York Times

This was their way of participating in the nation-building and what for them was this revolutionary moment. I don’t think that cultural exchange is bad, but I think it’s about the context of whose narratives get told and seen.

You also look at the popularity of Israeli folk dance among Christian Zionists. Did you know about this phenomenon before starting your research?

Our family friends are Christian Zionists, so it wasn’t a surprise. But I figured out it was much larger in scope than I realized. I was looking for videos of basic steps being taught, and the first websites to pop up were almost always Christian.

Where does the title come from?

I went to the Israeli embassy in New York to renew my passport, and the security guard asked me, in Hebrew, “Everything you have is yours?” Because I was working on this piece, it really stuck with me.

Is it risky showing this work at a Jewish-affiliated organization like the 14th Street Y?

It’s a little risky. I don’t know who’s going to come, and last year when I did a work-in-progress showing [at the Y], there was some tension about the content of the work. But they pride themselves on being a place that’s politically open, where artists can say what they want to say.

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