Dance as an art form was introduced in Israel in the 1920s by newly arrived teachers and devotees of dance from the cultural centers of Europe. ​​​​​​
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    CULTURE: Dance CULTURE: Dance
    Courtesy of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company
    Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company
    Photo courtesy of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company

    In the communal and religious life of the Jewish people, dance has been regarded as an expression of joy and sorrow since biblical times and is today an integral part of religious, national, community, and family celebrations. Contemporary dance has developed in two directions: expansion of the folk dance genre which accompanied the early settlers in the rebuilding of their ancient homeland; and the establishment of art dance, leading to stage productions created by professional choreographers and performed by trained dancers.

    Dance as an art form was introduced in the country in the 1920s by newly arrived teachers and devotees of dance from the cultural centers of Europe. After the establishment of the state, it was developed to a high professional level by a number of ensembles, each founded on the basis of a different orientation  and style. Today more than a dozen major professional dance companies, most of them based in Tel Aviv, perform a varied repertoire throughout the country and abroad.

    The Israel Ballet grew out of a studio for classical dance set up by its artistic directors, Berta Yampolsky and Hillel Markman. The only professional classical ballet company in the country, it performs classical, neo-classical and contemporary works created by Yampolsky as well as ballets by Balanchine and other international choreographers.

    The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company was founded in 1970 by Yehudit Arnon, member of Kibbutz Ga'aton in the Galilee, near the Lebanese border. Arnon turned a group of young amateur dancers into one of Israel's leading contemporary dance companies, steadily gaining international acclaim. Today, the KCDC is identified with its artistic director and choreographer Rami Beer.

    Founded in 1964 by Martha Graham and the Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild, the Batsheva Dance Company was initially based on Graham's methods, but always placed a strong emphasis on ballet training. Over forty years on, the company is perhaps the best known global ambassador of Israeli  culture and it employs 65 members, from dancers to technical crew members. Currently, Ohad Naharin is the artistic director, and Sharon Eyal the house choreographer.

    Like many dance companies in Israel, Batsheva has an educational agenda and has a number of outreach programs which aim to bring dance to all sectors of Israeli society. According to the company, Batsheva's works are expressive, dynamic, innovative, emotive, and esthetic, all of which reflect the energy of the country.

    Vertigo is a highly successful modern dance group founded in 1992 by two dancers, Noa Wertheim and Adi Sha'al. Touring worldwide, it has already received several international awards for its work. Much of its repertoire features original choreography by Wertheim, as well as innovative dance projects with other artists. The Vertigo Dance School in Jerusalem, founded in 1997, provides amateur and professional tuition in classical ballet, modern dance and improvisation.

    Inbal Pinto Dance Company's choreographer and designer Inbal Pinto is one of the rising stars of international dance. A former member of the Batsheva Dance Company, she has received numerous dance awards since she began choreographing in 1990. Together with Co-Artistic Director Avshalom Pollack, Pinto has created numerous dance pieces, such as the  world famous work, Oyster, which has been performed hundreds of times in Israel and abroad.

    The country's modern dance scene is further enhanced by a number of smaller groups and independent choreographers whose work has been highly appreciated by dance lovers all over the world. The most prominent of these is Yasmeen Godder, who won the Bessie Award in 2001 in New York and numerous awards in Israel. Her dance language is based around the female form, and her work, Two Playful Pink, has been performed worldwide. Other rising stars include Emanuel Gat and Renana Raz. 

    Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance, Neve Tzedek
    Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance, Neve Tzedek (Photo: D. Rozen)

    Since its opening in 1989, the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater in the newly renovated Neve Tzedek quarter of Tel Aviv has become the focal point of dance activities in the country. Also in Tel Aviv, the Dance Library of Israel and the Israel Dance Archive, in addition to serving as centers for study and research, publish books on dance and the Israel Dance Annual. Training is offered by the dance departments of the Rubin Academies of Music and Dance in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the Bat-Dor Studios in Tel Aviv and Be'er Sheva, the Thelma Yellin School in Givatayim and a number of other dance schools and workshops throughout the country.

    Israel's contributions to the field of movement education include the methods of Moshe Feldenkrais, which are taught all over the world, and the Eshkol-Wachman movement notation system, one of the three best-known systems of recording dance and movement in written form.

  • Folk Dance

    Dance festival at Kibbutz Dalia, 1958
    Dance festival at Kibbutz Dalia, 1958

    Israeli folk dance emerged as an amalgam of Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance forms from many parts of the world. While in other countries folk dance is fostered to preserve old rural traditions, in Israel it is a constantly developing art form which has evolved since the 1940s, based on historic and modern sources as well as on biblical associations and contemporary dance styles.

    The early pioneers brought with them native dances which were adapted to their new milieu. Among them, a Romanian dance, the hora, typified the new life being built in the Land of Israel: its closed circle form gave equal status to all participants, simple movements enabled everyone to take part and the linked arms symbolized the new ideology. 

    Widespread enthusiasm for dance followed, bringing with it the creation of a multifaceted folk dance genre set to popular Israeli songs, incorporating motifs such as the Arab debka, as well as dance elements ranging from North American jazz and Latin American rhythms to the cadences typical of Mediterranean countries.

    Folk dance manifests itself both through individual participation and stage performances. Public enthusiasm for folk dancing has led to the emergence of the professional dance leader and to thousands of people participating regularly in dance activities as a recreational outlet. Since 1988, a three-day international folk-dance festival has been held annually at Karmiel, a town in central Galilee, with the participation of troupes from Israel and around the world.

    Alongside Israeli folk dance, and influencing it, are the traditional dances of the different ethnic groups, which reflect both the 'ingathering of the exiles' and the pluralistic nature of Israel's society. They are preserved by a number of troupes specializing in the dances of Yemen, Kurdistan, North Africa, India, Georgia, Bukhara, and Ethiopia, and by ensembles which perform Arab, Druze, and Circassian dances.