If you haven't thought about Israeli dance since the last time you stumbled through a hora at a Jewish wedding, it's time to take another look. In the Washington area, you can find folk dance -- which Israelis call rikudei am, or "dance of the people" -- almost any day of the week.
These are lively affairs where young, old, novice and expert dancers join hands in an ever-expanding repertory of circle, line and couple dances, all performed with Israeli flair. The hora? That's just the beginning when it comes to Israeli dance, -- and like Levy's rye bread, you don't have to be Jewish to love it.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been a nation of immigrants, and Israeli folk dances reflect that diverse makeup: Older dances include quadrille-like Russian shers and percussive Arabic debkas, more recent dances favor Latin rhythms and hip movements.
Israeli folk dances now number more than 4,000, though only the best become popular standards like "Erev Tov" ("Good Evening"), "Od Lo Ahavti Dai" ("I Haven't Loved Enough") or "Ushavtem Mayim" ("And You Shall Draw Water").
Each year professional folk dance leaders and choreographers based in Israel and other countries create about 250 to 300 new Israeli dances, says Honey Goldfein, a New York-based folk dance teacher. Most new dances accompany Israeli pop music, the kind heard on the nation's Top-40 radio stations. So don't be surprised if you hear a Middle Eastern rap or a hip-quivering salsa sung in Hebrew.
"Israeli dancing is a great way to feel a part of a community," says folk dance instructor Ethan Halpern of College Park. "There's nothing better than a circle of friends dancing together -- it's good music, good exercise and good fun."
What to expect: If it's your first time, arrive early for instruction. A folk dance leader usually spends the initial hour of a regular session on new dances: first simple ones, then more advanced. During open dancing, the leader plays requests and popular favorites for everyone to join in. If you're a beginner, pick someone who looks experienced and try to follow along at a safe distance.
What to bring: Wear comfortable, rubber-soled shoes; no one dances barefoot anymore. Many stalwart folk dancers invest in jazz-dance sneakers, but any athletic shoe with good support will do. Dress for comfort -- and for staying cool -- and don't forget a water bottle. No need to bring a partner; dancers pair up and change partners frequently.
Cost: Sessions are drop-in and range from free to $8.
Join the circle:
Bethesda-Chevy Chase Jewish Community Group. This intimate group favors a simple but vigorous repertory of dances from the 1940s through the 1960s that recalls Israel's agricultural and pioneering days. Sundays (except July 31), 10 a.m.-noon. Generally meets at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, 6125 Montrose Rd., Rockville. Free. 301-348-3763. www.bccjcg.org.
Congregation Har Shalom. Longtime local folk dance leader Ben Hole concentrates on popular Israeli dances choreographed prior to 1990. Wednesday classes for beginners and intermediate dancers, 8:15-9 p.m.; dances by request 9-10 p.m. 11510 Falls Rd., Potomac. $5. 301-441-8213 or 301-299-7087.
Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. A dedicated dozen show up each week to enjoy both oldies and some new dances. Tuesdays, 8-10 p.m. 8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax. $6. 301-982-0937 or 703-323-0880. www.jccnv.org.
Mount Jezreel Baptist Church. Just a dozen dancers participate in the sessions, which offer older and newer dances with teaching interspersed. Mondays, 8-10 p.m. 420 University Blvd. E., Silver Spring. $5. 301-982-0937.
Oseh Shalom. A tiny but spirited group that welcomes newcomers and enjoys old and current dances. Wednesdays, 8-10 p.m. 7515 Olive Branch Way, Laurel. $2. 301-982-0937 or 301-496-5151.
Shaare Tefila Congregation. Vivacious teacher Moshany leads this group of about 50 dancers in the synagogue's social hall. Tuesday classes for beginners, 7:30-8 p.m.; dance 8-11 p.m. 11120 Lockwood Dr., Silver Spring. $7. 240-350-3110 or 301-593-3410.
Tikvat Israel Congregation. The largest local session attracts more than 100 dancers, including many native Israelis, and emphasizes fast-paced circle dances, popular line dances for younger participants and complex partnered dances. Thursdays, instruction 8-9 p.m.; dance 9 p.m.-midnight. 2200 Baltimore Rd., Rockville. $7. 301-871-5663 or 301-762-7338.