Laylote Levanote: White Nights

I can only imagine that back in the US, this post could possibly labeled racist, but here in Karmi’el, we are celebrating 72 plus hours of “white nights,” our all night (and day) Karmie’el Dance Festival. For weeks, the city has been majorly sprucing up: hanging out the Israeli flags and banners on all light posts, and stringing up brightly colored lights over all the roundabouts and throughout the town. Karmiel is know for its international dance festival, with performers and spectators coming in from all over the world.

I’ve been learning that most Israeli towns and cities, each having their own flavor, put on huge festivals during the summer. There are wine festivals, different kinds of music festivals, art, food, and dance festivals. Ours started at midnight on Tuesday/Wednesday with a brilliant fireworks display. From 12:30am – 6am the entire city came alive with dancing across multiple venues. There was line-dancing in the amphitheater, hip hop for the kids on the public basketball courts, Latino dances at the roller rink, Nostalgic Israeli in the sports center, and modern Israeli on the tennis courts. And this was only part of the line-up. The night did, in fact, seemed like day, and it was as if most of Israel was present and having fun enjoying the national pass-time. Young and old alike. Jews, Arabs, and Christians all participating peacefully together.

That first night, we just strolled through the different venues as onlookers. We took in the carousel and carnival rides in the city park, and the vendors hawking all the similar finds we’d see at the Ventura County Fair. The food vendors were a bit different. Hot dogs and hamburgers were replaced by felafel and shwarma stands. Local Druze were making their special, huge, dome-shaped pitas and crepes filled with Nutella and other spreads; some of the local Arabs were selling fresh, hot Turkish coffee with cardamom. It was a beautiful sight to see the brass trays filled with gleaming brass Turkish coffee pots, unlike anything I’ve ever taken in. And one probably needed this to stay awake throughout the night!!! In another park, artists had come in from all over the country to display their crafts, sculptures, photography, painting, weaving. It was very festive, and lots of fun. We stumbled home around 3am, mostly because we had to wake early for classes later that morning.

So – I ditched Hebrew class halfway through to take in a few late morning/early afternoon dance classes. In no less than 18 different venues, indoor (air conditioned!!!!!) dance workshops were taking place. Some of the offerings were ballet, jazz, lyrical, modern, folk, hip-hop, couples, ballroom, and various international. Karmi’el rolled out the carpet for Chinese, Phillipino, Greek, Mexican, Ethiopian, and various European ethnic dancers. Unfortunately, the Irish pulled out of the fais in Tel-Aviv, and the festival here (BDS and concerns for the dancers’ safety being cited as the main reasons). My first two classes were only for women, mostly religious (Orthodox). The workshop I fell in love with was “gaga” which was taught by a young, Natalie Portman look-alike from Los Angeles, CA of all places. She told me she had emigrated 4 years prior, and thankfully, the class was bi-lingual (Now that I looked at the website she gave me, http://www.gagapeople.com, could it have been Ms. Portman????) It was a mix of yoga, lyrical ballet, physical therapy, and guided imagery. Gentle, beautiful, both relaxing and energetic, and spiritual as well as tremendous fun. This is something I will be pursuing on a regular basis, as it will be a great way to deal with the symptoms of M.S.

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My next class was a lovely women’s Israeli folk dance workshop. I was back in summer camp again!!!! Just seeing these beautiful women (mostly modestly dressed ladies, the married women with covered heads and wigs) joyously expressing themselves in the dance of their people was really an emotional experience for me. All the ladies – from the youngest little girls around 9-10, to pregnant moms and older grandmas knew all the steps. Thankfully, I made connections and found several women’s folk dance groups in my immediate area. Can’t wait to start!!! Another favorite part of this workshop was the 76 year old woman, originally from the US, who taught several dances. She was funny, witty, and spry. May I be like her when I am that old!!!

Shvitzing from the workout, and body aching, I left that venue to spy out the couples Israeli dance (Orthodox do not dance in mixed groups) workshop down the street. By this time it was almost 3pm, the heat of the day – we’re now beginning our triple digit extended heatwave! Oy!! – but there were still many people dancing. This was a gentle class of traditional melodies and steps – most quite romantic – from the 1940’s-1960’s. The best part of this was watching the 94 year old gentleman experiencing the joy of the dance. He knew every step, danced every dance, and I can only imagine that it’s what keeps him young at heart. A memory I will always treasure!!!!

So, after a nice rest back home and a time to catch up on homework, John and I decided to check out the program for Wednesday night. There were ticketed events: Hungarian Ballet; Snow White on Ice at the Civic Arts Plaza; Zorba the Greek at the smaller theatre; and other international dance productions at the local college. And all the rest was free of charge. Once again, our usually sleepy town had sprung to life with lights, music, and dancing, dancing, dancing. This time we stayed out until well after 3am, and the party seemed to be just getting started. Now we know what the Israelis do in their spare time. Everyone in the country was present, it seemed, and all knew the dance steps to even the most modern, radio-played songs. Each song had different dance steps. There were hundreds of dances!!! Can’t wait to start learning some of them. Favorite part: we went back to the sports hall after 2am, and the old man from that afternoon was still dancing!!!!!!! G-d bless that man! I must find out about him…. maybe tonight-

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