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My dance journey in Israel

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My dance journey in Israel photo

The author (right) posing outside the main gate of the kibbutz

I didn't start panicking until I had boarded my El Al flight from JFK to Tel Aviv and fully realized that I was about to leave my home for five months. A concerned flight attendant noticed my anxiety and asked me where I was heading. When I told her Kibbutz Ga'aton, she said brightly, "Oh! That's the kibbutz where everyone goes to dance!" I breathed freely again.

Indeed, it was the reason I'd chosen to spend a semester in the northern Israeli village. While Ga'aton functions as a modern kibbutz supported by agricultural and industrial exports, it is also a "dance village." Set in the gorgeous upper Galilee, the main dance studio's windows overlook the rolling hills. Here, Rami Be'er directs the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company (KCDC), and students from around the world come to study dance in an internship/apprenticeship-like program in partnership with Masa Israel Journey.

The origin of the village is inspiring. During the Holocaust, a girl named Yehudit Arnon was in Auschwitz when a Nazi asked her to perform at a Christmas party. She bravely refused but feared this action would be her last. If she did survive, she decided that she would dedicate the rest of her life to dance. In 1948, Arnon moved to the newly-established Kibbutz Ga'aton, and there, she founded the dance studio that eventually became KCDC. Arnon is still alive today, and though I didn't have the chance to meet her, her desire for life and need to spread the love of dance is embodied in the spirit of the kibbutz.

From the beginning, my days were filled with exhaustion and a sense of fulfillment. My teachers, who were all former professional dancers or current KCDC members, pushed us to reach our highest potential in everything from our dance classes and workshops with other Israeli dance companies to our own choreography projects. The KCDC style, which is characterized by extremely physical, athletic, and large movements contrasted with smaller, gestural, and subtle movements, led to growth in my technical abilities and strength.

We didn't catch our breath until Thursday afternoons, the start of Israeli weekends when we grabbed a bus or hitchhiked to Nahariya, the closest city to the kibbutz. Back at the kibbutz, I'd curl up with a cappuccino at the local café, grab a Goldstar beer at the kibbutz pub, and finally relax. Friday evening meant potluck night at one of the Dance Journey participants' rooms. We were from 16 countries and five continents, and we spent the nights teaching each other about food, music, and traditions from our homes.

One evening in March, we received news that a bomb exploded near Jerusalem's Central Bus Station at rush hour. In the days that followed, I considered the kibbutz's many bomb shelters. Several of them had been transformed into alternative spaces…a Pilates studio, a party room, or a place to practice drums. I appreciated that these musical and physical endeavors seemed to be powerful, metaphorical antitheses to rockets and war.

In one of our performances, we participated in a Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Hashoah) ceremony held at Kibbutz Lochmei Hagetaot ("Ghetto Fighters' House,"), which was founded in 1949 by resistance fighters. Against the backdrop of twisted bars and violent images, we performed a section from "Aide Memoire," KCDC's Holocaust memorial piece by Rami Be'er. As I danced for a nationally televised broadcast, I realized how dance—the complete opposite of violence and destruction—can transform and heal.

Rebecca Crystal, from Chicago, IL, graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She participated in Masa Israel's Dance Journey program in February-June of 2011. You can read more details about her experience at http://artinmotionblog.blogspot.com.

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