Moshe Shem-Tov was a driving force in the Israeli folk dance community here for nearly a quarter of a century when he walked away from his successful Thursday night dance session four years ago. The Rockville-based dance leader, or markid in Hebrew, taught thousands of dances to an avid community of recreational dancers from the Maryland suburbs, Northern Virginia and Washington.
“I felt that I didn’t have anything more to give,” he said. “It was time for a change, time for the new generation.”
It took that next generation to bring him back to the circle – and to the stage. On Sunday, Shem-Tov and his wife, Kesem, will dance “Hora Im Yeladim” — “Hora With Children” — at this year’s Israeli Dance Festival DC at the Blair Family Center for the Arts on the Bullis School campus in Potomac.
“The only reason I will be dancing is because my son, Gal, insisted,” said Shem-Tov, 51. “The pressure came from him. I wouldn’t do it otherwise.”
Locally, longtime dance leaders are seeing the next generation come forward. This year, when Abby Kerbel and festival co-director Jennie Berger looked at the troupes scheduled to perform, they realized that, save for one, every group was composed of dancers under 30, often well under 30 in light of the boom in day school and Hebrew school troupes, not to mention a growth spurt in Yesodot and Kesem, the popular community teen and pre-teen groups. This year’s festival will include 177 dancers, 138 of whom are younger than 18.
The dance “Hora Im Yeladim” was created to bring some dancing parents and their children together on stage to even out an afternoon that skews young. An invitation went out to families who danced, including the Shem-Tovs. The high-energy hora, choreographed by Berger, will feature 18 dancers in seven family units, with children ranging in age from 13 to 29, while the parents are in their 40s, 50s and 60s.
Nicole Berner-Kadish, of Takoma Park, is over the moon about the opportunity to dance with her 15-year-old son, Segev, a freshman at Albert Einstein High School in Kensington. Having danced with adult troupes, Berner-Kadish said, “We are much better behaved when our kids are around … we’re not horsing around. In our rehearsals we were always goofing off, complaining, being silly.” Not with the kids there.
Yesodot and Kesem are “really like a youth group,” she said. “They all had Shabbat dinner together. They come together to celebrate holidays. For my son, who is in public school where there aren’t a lot of Jewish kids, Israeli dance has become a community for him.”
And that bodes well for the future generations. “As he grows up and goes to college and ends up in another community,” Berner-Kadish said, “he will always have the Israeli dance community to connect to people and to find a place where he’ll meet other Jews to socialize with. This was my experience and I hope it will be his.”
Marnina Cowan, 29, remembers being 5 and peeking into the social hall at Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville to watch the big kids dance. But she had to wait until ninth grade to join Yesodot. Now she co-directs the high school troupe with Mike Fox, and eight years ago founded Kesem. “I really want our community to be able to come together with a shared passion for Israel and to grow a shared love for Israel through dance,” Cowan said. “We’re giving people another reason to feel connected and be excited about being Jewish.”
Around the country and in Israel most Israeli dancers are gray haired, though performing groups skew younger. Avid dancers note the Washington region as one of the few where the number of younger participants is growing due to efforts of the youth dance troupes.
“I’ve danced all over the world,” said Berner-Kadish. “Usually it’s either for older people, or for younger people. You’ll feel out of place if you’re not in that predominant group. What’s so great about what’s happening here is that everyone dances together, whether you’re 8 or 80. It’s a great way to connect across generations.”
Ilan Gasko, 17, and his sister, Tamar, 23, will join their mother, Bonni Berger, 52, of Bethesda on stage Sunday. This is the seventh festival Ilan, a junior at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, has performed in.
“When I learned about this opportunity to dance with my mom and sister on stage I was so excited,” he said. Tamar Gasko, a sign language student at Gallaudet University, cut short a trip to Ireland to make sure she could be back for show time.
“One of the things I love the most is dancing with people I love,” she said.
Added Berger, “How often in my life will I have the chance to dance with my kids? It’s pretty special. I decided to follow my kids’ lead.”
Israeli Dance Festival DC 2018, March 18 at 3 p.m., Bullis School, Blair Family Center for the Arts, 10601 Falls Road, Potomac. Tickets $10-$20. Visit israelidancefestivaldc.com/tickets. Community Dance Session, March 17, 8:30 p.m., B’nai Israel Congregation, 6301 Montrose Road, Rockville, $5 suggested donation.