Israeli folkloric dances, or folk dances, as they are known, symbolize much in a culture. They shape and represent culture, personality, emotions, religion and nationality. Folk dancing has existed in Israel since the early nineteenth century, when young, ideologically-driven Jews without a family life moved from Europe to Israel. Their intention was to develop a new Jewish settlement based on values including equality, working the land and in particular, a new Jewish Israeli, The pioneers abandoned all visible signs of religious Judaism and in adopting new symbols for the secular Zionist Judaism, they did not forget about dance. Even before the State was born, the “hora”, perhaps the most famous of Israeli folk dances, as a symbol of all that is Israeli was especially precious to the new immigrants.
The “hora” symbolized the values, according to which the young people who had arrived in Israel lived; these circular dances symbolized equality among friends, hand in hand representing working together, the dance is danced barefoot and embodies the connection to the earth. It is also above all, a dance of simple steps which anyone can join, symbolizing the enormous task of building the country. The “hora” was only one of many folk dances which developed during the founding of the State of Israel and became a social norm, along with group singing, particularly after the State was born. In 2005 in the United States, the biggest “hora” in history was danced, with 1,300 participants from local Jewish community.
Folk dancing takes place weekly all over Israel.
Apart from folk dancing for regular participants, there are also “harkadot” or group dances. “Harkadot” is the name given to dance meetings meant for large numbers of participants. They could be for a specific group, or open to the public. Some of the “harkadot” require a entry fee however there are several public ones with no charge. The open “harkadot” can be seen in Tel Aviv every Friday evening at Gordon Beach or Saturday morning at the Sportek. Other cities offer them on Saturdays including Rishon LeTzion, Haifa, Acre, Netanya and Ramat Gan. All of the “harkadot” are advertised on a special site including a board for finding partners, courses for all levels and there is even a dancers’ 24 hour radio station, which plays the best songs of the genre. One of the most famous people in the field is Gavri Levi, a dancer and choreographer, who was also the chairman of the Israeli Football Association.
The main annual folk dancing event, which began in the 1980s and continues today, is the Carmiel Dance Festival. The festival lasts three days and presents dances and dancers from Israel and all over the world. Thousands of dancers and close to a quarter of a million amateur dancers and visitors attend. During the festival there are, along with performances, competitions and professional enrichment courses, as well as mass “harkadot” which are open to the general public. Each year, on the main night, the festival hosts a special performance by the best groups in the world; “Mazowsce”- Poland’s national troupe, the Ukrainian ballet, soloists from the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, and the Ballet Espanol of Spain are only some examples. In 2000 the National Ballet of China were hosted at the main event of the festival.