Pre-pandemic, Israeli folk dancers in Portland could find dances several evenings a week at community centers and other venues around town. Now Portlanders can join a dance session on Facebook or Zoom at almost any hour of the day or night.
“All of the sudden the world opened up,” says Sue Wendel, editor of Portland Israeli Folk Dance News and leader of the Leedy Grange with Sue & Friends dances. “Hundreds of virtual sessions have popped up from all over the world.” (Photo: Sue Wendel dances to a Zoom session in her dining nook.)
On May 11, Sue added the Leedy Grange dances to the Zoom world with a pilot session. For a schedule of future sessions and Zoom link, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We are finding innovative ways to stay connected and to keep dancing,” says Donna Cole, who normally leads dance sessions at Fulton Park Community Center and Israeli couples dancing in Portland.
“During the initial days of sheltering, I joined the first FaceBook Live Virtual Israeli Dance Session facilitated by Sagi Azran from Southern California. Sagi was uncertain how the dancers would respond. But an amazing thing happened – dancers from Israel and around the world joined in. This is when I knew that virtual dance sessions would be an important way to stay connected, even though it felt strange to be dancing alone in my living room.”
California dancer Aaron Alpert, who has taught sessions for Donna and Sue, runs weekly virtual sessions on Zoom that several Portland dancers mentioned they enjoy. He also maintains a comprehensive list of virtual dance sessions all over the world on his website: nirkoda.com/virtual.
Portland dancer Cindy Merrill is taking full advantage of the online offerings. Before in-person dancing was cancelled, Cindy says she usually danced two evenings a week for about four hours total.
“Dancing is my favorite activity for exercise and socializing; it makes me happy and always cheers me up,” says Cindy. “When in-person dance sessions were canceled, I was disappointed, but … I heard about a virtual dance session from Chicago on Thursdays – the very group where I used to dance before moving to Portland 21 years ago. I was excited about the opportunity to dance again with my old group.”
Cindy found more and more options online: “This past week I danced over 9 hours … With so many Zoom session options worldwide, there are so many more opportunities to dance throughout the week than there normally are in one city.”
Those expanded options are a bright spot in our physically distanced world. Donna says the virtual dances give "our dancers an authentic experience by allowing them to actually participate Live with dancers in Israel. In fact, Israel is coming live (on FB) to Portland several days a week – right here in the comfort of our living rooms!"
For those who want to learn to dance so they can join this phenomena, local instructor Allison Victor and the Mittleman Jewish Community Center have brought the long-running beginning Israeli folk dance class to Zoom in its normal 7 pm Wednesday slot (oregonjcc.org/live-events).
“Zoom dances are not the same, but it is something,” says Allison.
Rhona Feldman agrees that Zoom dancing doesn’t fill all her dance needs. She says she has enjoyed Zoom sessions with people she used to dance with in Seattle before moving here two years ago. But when she was walking in her neighborhood and met a fellow dancer, the two came up with another option. The other woman lives on a large cul-de-sac, so Rhona brought over her computer and five people gathered to dance (physically distanced) on the street. Since then, a group of five to seven people has met on Sundays an hour before sunset when the weather is nice. “I love the cul-de-sac dance,” says Rhona. “It’s great to be outside as the sun is going down. Zoom is really fun, but it’s hard to have conversations with each other.”
Online or on the cul-de-sac, Rhona says, “Dancing moves my soul – the rhythm and motion.”
As the world starts to eye a return to (an altered) normality, Rhona says that in-person dancing will be different. Holding hands while dancing will be a thing of the past.
But the worldwide connections and varied options may also move into the future.
“I’m definitely going to keep dancing virtually until I can dance in person again,” says Cindy. “But when I do go back to my Portland sessions, I wonder if there will still be some virtual dance sessions, now that so many people have found it to be fun and are connecting with dancers far away.”
Zoom Etiquette: Mute Your Mic
Sue Wendel and her sister, Debbi Montrose, learned an important lesson that had nothing to do with dancing the first time they joined a Zoom dance session. The sisters were sharing a condo in Palm Desert in mid-March and decided to join a virtual session led by Mike Fox from Maryland.
“I hadn’t muted the microphone (Zoom etiquette I now know), so hundreds of dancers could hear Debbi and me singing, chatting and laughing. I hadn’t learned about the Zoom Chat feature either, and apparently many people were sending me messages to mute my microphone. Finally, Mike Fox announced to everyone ‘Sue Kern Wendel, please mute your mic!’”