Early one Sunday morning, a group of avid folk dancers at Boulder’s Avalon Ballroom are strutting through their paces, admittedly a bit more winded and achier than usual. After all, due to COVID, most of those on the hardwood floor hadn’t danced in a year-and-a-half.
Their guest instructor, however, looked as spry as ever, and came to Colorado with a message.
“COVID has changed things,” famed choreographer Shmulik Gov Ari tells the dancers, “but we have to work hard not to let it change our life. It’s a mission.”
This was the fourth and final day of Gov Ari’s visit to Denver and Boulder, sponsored by the Boulder International Folk Dance Group. Renowned as one of the world’s foremost folk dance choreographers with more than 300 dances to his credit, Gov Ari rarely does “grass roots” instructional appearances. However, he could not resist this invitation.
“It’s like a tree without water for two years,” says Gov Ari. “It’s no longer green, with no fruit.”
“Coming again and seeing people, physically, in the same hall, is great,” says Gov Ari. “Dancing is an energy you can do by yourself, but there is magic in the power of the circle. It’s good to be back on our horses.”
Surrounded by his new pupils and with the tune “Etz Hazayit” as a musical backdrop, Gov Ari raises his arms to simulate a tree with new, fresh branches. He often equates dance movements with the subtleties of nature.
“One-two-three,” he then commands the group.
“There’s nothing like learning from the person who created the dance and what it means to him, and to see all the subtleties of how he dances and how he moves,” says dancer Debbie Bowinski. “It’s just gorgeous.”
Bowinski gazes in Gov Ari’s direction. “He creates dances that have a personal meaning to him, which seems to be less common these days in Israeli dance,” she continued. “These have a deeper, spiritual meaning.”
“It gets me.”
It is evident why Gov Ari’s art form is renowned.
“I don’t make dances, I make stories with steps,” said Gov-Ari. “I don’t have an idea to make a dance. I have an idea to make a story from movement.”
In recent years, Gov Ari has noted his concern for what he considers the decline in Hora dancing. Gov Ari’s craft has been framed by longtime Yemenite traditions.
“The foundation of Israeli folk dancing is Hora,” insists Gov Ari. “It’s a question of age, and style. The new format is now more walking dances and steps to popular music. A lot of people are interested in how I’m keeping the traditions alive.”
In the last few years, Gov Ari has been doing that through online lectures, painting and writing.
“I’m kind of a renaissance man,” he says.
As the workshop revue ends, Gov Ari walks around his circle of friends, to tune of “Shalom Chaverim,” and delicately touches each student. He asks the group to sing along. The warmth is palpable. The teacher appears genuinely pleased to have the opportunity to reinforce the beauty of Israeli folk dance.
For the admirers, the pulled muscles were worth it.
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