I am a devoted visitor of the annual Jerusalem Arts and Crafts Fair. Not because I really need to attend concerts by Amir Benayoun, Barry Sakharof or any of the other musicians who play there, but because of the incredible combination of different artists displaying their masterpieces at the fair.
Crafts and spiritual art, sculptures, dance performances and music by local and international artists…I walk around at the fair like a little girl dazzled by the myriad of colors, sounds and shapes. Since I was in second grade, I’ve had to hold the hand of a responsible adult – my mother, then a good friend and finally, my husband, to avoid getting lost between the never-ending booths that display way too much for me to absorb.
When I was little, and later as an adolescent girl, I imagined myself as one of those artists one day. Perhaps the one creating beautiful ceramic items, or braiding vibrant strings and colorful beads into the hair of a young girl, or dancing with a thin figure and fluttering dress atop a dramatic stage. When I grew up and became a young teenager, an active member of a religious youth movement and then graduate of a religious high school, I learned to exchange those fantasies for more practical ideas. Important things like working with at-risk teens, saving lost souls, etc.
Occasionally, I meet a friend who chose to study dance, drama or music. Of course, I try to say something nice, but I can’t help wondering afterward what they are actually going to do with their studies. How do these fields fit together with having a home and children, or observing the Sabbath and Jewish festivals, or maintaining a level of modesty while advertising yourself and reaching success?
I always felt that religious institutions (may my teachers from high school forgive me) don’t exactly encourage or push female students to pursue or succeed in artistic fields. No, teaching dance classes to girls in fourth grade just doesn’t cut it as fully expressing your artistic talent, in my opinion. Coordinating singing events at Bat Mitzva parties isn’t the most fulfilling musical career either. Aside from blaming the religious institutions, I also think that a religious lifestyle doesn’t really include options such as these, and definitely doesn’t encourage married women to make time in their schedules to attend dance or pottery classes, at the expense of their families. A Bible class – that’s okay, because it’s important for your spiritual life in the World to Come, and so on, but anything related to nourishing your body-mind-soul (apparently that’s the new term for it) – that’s not okay.
All of these thoughts came to my mind last night at the Dancing in the Vineyards festival in Shiloh. About 2,000 women have been attending this dance festival every year for over five years in a row. It’s a festival dedicated to women’s dance and includes workshops in various dance styles, followed by the main show featuring different dance ensembles and music. There was a wide selection of workshops at the festival, not just Israeli folk dancing, but also dancing ranging from hip hop, modern and African dance, holistic laughing sessions and even – gasp! – belly dancing. Yesterday, I mainly enjoyed walking around and watching from the sidelines, occasionally joining one of the workshops when one of my favorite songs was playing.
Throughout the evening, there were several things that amazed me. The first thing that surprised me was the huge number of married women, young and old, who attended the event. The second thing was seeing how different types of women and teenage girls approached the workshops, waited a moment for that emotional barrier to drop, the one preventing them from letting loose, and only then joined the dancing. But perhaps what blew my mind most was the intense thirst that I sensed all around me on the beaming faces of the participants, and the wonderful feeling that this need was being satisfied.
I suddenly felt that this thirst is something that is usually suppressed by all of us, a physical need that has an immediate impact on our mental state, which no one ever talked to me about! We all know that in order to feel good, we need to eat well, keep in shape, and that music or other types of enrichment are also great pick-me-ups. But the wonderful feeling that dancing can arouse within you – that’s something that I never really understood.
The final show, the culminating event of the evening, was a joint performance by different dance ensembles, followed by a musical show featuring female singers. With these thoughts in mind, I succeeded in taking off my cynical glasses and deeply appreciating the dancers on stage. Yes, those girls with the bouncing ponytails, women with tightly knotted headscarves that stayed put during the entire dance, and even the woman in her ninth month of pregnancy whose impressive dance moves made a few older women behind me gasp and almost faint in fear that her water would break right there on stage.
Maybe I’m too practical, too cynical, or as my friends put it – I’ve positioned myself stoutly in the adult world. Nevertheless, I sat there and hoped that I too am part of this changing world, a world where we will teach our daughters that letting their bodies express themselves through dance, art and nourishment of this wonderful mind-body connection is something that has a respected and worthy place, in a religious lifestyle too.