MARBLEHEAD – Right, left, right, pivot, left, right, left, touch, mayim, two, three, four, turn, two, back, pivot.
If you’re a little lost, don’t worry – there are 18 other people there to help you. For the past five years or so, they’ve been meeting every Sunday night at Temple Sinai in Marblehead to practice Israeli dance, and beginners are always welcome.
“I teach the way that I would like to learn,” said Lainie Goodman, who shouts the dance steps into a headset microphone. “As long as we don’t slam into each other, or hit the floor, I don’t care what you do, the steps do not have to be perfect, they don’t even have to be close to perfect, as long as you come and have a good time, that’s all that counts.”
“I never thought of myself as a dancer of any type,” said Vitaly Perelman of Marblehead, whose wife, Jane Mikityansky, started and organized the current group. “It’s a very helpful skill to keep in shape both mentally and physically. Dance promotes a sense of rhythm and coordination, and emotionally, the music touches me.”
“I just love Israeli music, and the songs are incredible, and I can’t stop being amazed at the country creating these songs that really inspire you,” said Mikityansky. “If you listen to the words, it really lifts you up. And that helps me with our history, and really standing for Israel is my goal.”
Mikityansky restarted the group at Temple Sinai in 2018 after a few months of inactivity followed the dissolution of a long-running JCC class. Each week, she finds a new dance to learn for the upcoming session, and emails it to Goodman and Larisa Brockman, the two instructors, who memorize it. The group already has learned roughly 80 songs, and Mikityansky chooses about 25 dances for each two-hour session.
During the first hour, everyone learns the new dance, while the second is a free dance and review of the rest of the songs they’ve learned. Israeli dancing has evolved from the simple hora into much more elaborate dances with influences from around the world.
Still, once you learn the fundamental steps, it gets easier. “There’s a certain list of movements we teach at the beginning, the movements which repeat in most of the dances,” said Brockman. “There’s the mayim, another is the cha-cha step, the box step, the Yemenite, which is going back and forward, the flying mayim.”
Some of the moves tell some part of the story of Israel. The mayim, which has one foot interweaving the other, was named for the Hebrew word for “water” after an Israeli kibbutz found water near the Galilee and created a dance move emulating the motion of water to celebrate. The Yemenite, which puts weight on both feet before one foot crosses to the other side, comes from the many Jews who arrived in Israel from Yemen.
“They call it folk dancing because people came to Israel from Romania and Greece and Morocco and Yemen and all over Europe, and they brought the culture with them to Israel, and they all created Israeli dance from it,” said Talya Paul, an Israeli living in Lynnfield whose parents fled Yemen in the 1930s.
Paul remembers some of the same songs she hears at Temple Sinai coming out of speakers during recess at school. Paul attends with three other Israelis – Rachel Jacobson of Swampscott, Beti Levine of Danvers, and Marina Erijman of Beverly – who attend Marblehead sessions on Sundays and sessions in Peabody on Tuesdays.
Peabody classes have been held at Temple Ner Tamid each week for about 15 years. The group is run by Grace Newman, who took it over from an Israeli couple, Elie and Adrienne Mazor. Now the Peabody group gets anywhere from 15 to 30 people a night, though Newman is looking for new members and encourages people to contact Ner Tamid if they’re interested.
“Every time we bring in a new dance we do it every single week for a couple of weeks,” she said. “When you learn it enough, the music tells you what to do.”
Eight Israeli dance classes are running at the JCCNS until March 23. Email email@example.com for more information.