Alive - if struggling slightly - after 25 years, the Caltech Israeli Folk Dance group gathered on a recent evening in a Pasadena church hall to celebrate its silver anniversary. Their motto: ``Keep the Circle Going.''
Among devotees who came from near and far was Hal David, who founded the group while a Caltech grad student. Today, he's a biologist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. - and still folk dancing.
David learned Israeli dance while a counselor at a local Jewish camp. Later, at Caltech, he went regularly to a dance group at UCLA. As ``there weren't many women at Caltech,'' he decided that starting a group there might attract women to the campus.
``Exactly one month before I started this group,'' he recalls, ``I met my wife at UCLA. So the whole thing was redundant.'' For him.
But the Caltech dancers prospered, although today Caltech students are a minority of the membership of about 100, a fact the dancers hope to change through campus outreach.
Each Sunday night, a core group of 20 to 30 devotees meets in Winnett Lounge on campus. Over the years, members have included Christians, Jews and Muslims. ``The music strikes a chord with a lot of people,'' explains Judy Wiener, who joined in the '70s.
It's not all ``Hava Nagila. . . .'' Israel is a
young country, and its music and dance are
still evolving, a mix of Arabic and Eastern
European influences with contemporary
overtones. Anniversary celebrants danced
traditional line and circle dances to music
from 1950s LPs and original dances
choreographed by their current leader, Darcel
Jones did. Soon, he was dancing five nights a week until his ``legs burnt out.'' Now, this is someone whose idea of music at the time was the Temptations. Middle Eastern music, he acknowledges, is ``an acquired taste. The women sing like cats on a fence, real high and nasal.'' And now he loves it.
Ronit Woodside, a preschool teacher, came to folk dance more conventionally. Born in Israel, she connected with the group when she moved here 14 years ago. She loves dancing because of ``the free-flowing movement and seeing people connected. This is what Israel is about, connectedness.''
Rick Cofield, 42, another former leader of the Caltech dancers, joined while a Caltech student. ``Caltech's a very monastic kind of life. I met my wife folk dancing,'' he explains. He's now a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer and he and wife Lucie still come occasionally, attracted by ``the lively spirit.'' He laments, ``Kids aren't doing this, but we're trying to bring ours in.''
John Louie and wife Neva Donovan brought their children, Anna, 4, and Benjamin, 3 months. Says Donovan: ``They've been dancing since before they were born.''
Louie joined this group as a Caltech grad student about 10 years ago, after years of resisting the efforts of his parents, who were members, to interest him. While teaching at the University of Pennsylvania (sic - actually Penn State), he started a group there. The couple now live in Reno, where he teaches at the University of Nevada and she is a medical doctor. A nice place to bring up kids, she says, but, ``There's no dancing. That's what we really miss.''
Tapping his feet in their pointed-toe Macedonian-style sandals, or opankes, was Ralph David, 80, Hal David's father and a dedicated folk dancer from Fallbrook. Not missing a dance was Marilyn Pixler of La Canada, 70-plus, a real estate agent, retired teacher and lifelong dance enthusiast. ``My mother always wanted me to be a Shirley Temple,'' she says, ``but I didn't like that kind of dancing.'' Folk dance is her thing. For years, she taught a group of Caltech children, some of whom still dance. As kids, she says, ``They fought it. They didn't want to touch hands.''
In the center of a circle of dancers, Jones is calling steps. ``Yemenite, cross, Yemenite, cross.'' Every dancer knows that the yemenite is a side-behind-crossover step, just as they know that the grapevine is a cross-behind-side-cross-front step.
These dancers are an eclectic lot in Hawaiian shirts, jeans, harem pants, tie-dyed Ts and Bermuda shorts. The common denominator is enthusiasm. They clap, they shout, they joyfully raise linked arms.
There are two birthday cakes to
be cut. But first, there is a moment
of silence, a moment to remember
slain Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak
Rabin. The dance that follows
is a dance of peace.
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