This sentence opened my year of dance training here in Israel: it has changed how I see, move and, most importantly, love dance more than ever before. This sentence is what makes Israel’s dance scene so great - this is due to the dancers here sweating fierceness and passion from their bodies: dancers from companies like Batsheva Dance Company who are such soul-catching and commanding dancers to watch. Therefore, this is why myself and many others from around the world are drawn to dance in Israel.
“Connect this to your Passion to move... to dance” is a regular teacher feedback given in Gaga classes. As readers, you may now go off now to Google “Gaga Dance” and may find yourself with many YouTube clips of endless dance routines to the famous Lady Gaga songs, but Gaga has stemmed way back before the lady herself: it's a movement technique derived in the '90s from Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin. Gaga was named for its simplicity, so easy a baby can say it, and it distances itself from becoming “Ohad’s technique”.
Also, since the creation of Gaga, the technique has been constantly evolving, adapting with how it’s taught and what is involved: the Gaga classes I have discovered this year will probably not be not the same in the future. This also explains perfectly what Gaga is: an ongoing exploration of movement possibilities. The Gaga lessons are structured with layered tasks which explore how differently you can use and move your body. Furthermore, from what I feel, Gaga is one of the best whole-body workouts: there have been many classes where I have finished with my body and clothes drenched in sweat.
There are two types of Gaga classes: Gaga People and Gaga Dancers. Gaga People is a class which is open to all: all ages, genders, sizes and abilities. Gaga was originally developed for non-dancers: in fact, it was initiated by one of Naharin’s costume designers asking for dance lessons. What I love most about going to Gaga People is that it gives me my fill and love of community dance (plus the nonstop smiles of the older participants give me pure joy). In Gaga we are all together and moving together, regardless of who we are or who they are. Gaga takes this a step further; with the uniqueness of the class, there is a sense of not being able to pick out who is a dancer and who is not. Gaga is taught together but it is about your own individual journey, your own exploration.
A typical class (I say "typical" although each class is different) starts with gentle “floating” - floating your body as if in water: not rising up but with a sense of spreading). This “floating” is not moving your body in space but reacting to an inner pulse: “travelling stuff”. A first layer of a task is given, for example you may be asked to initiate the movement from your “Lena” (a Gaga term for the pelvic area) and see how the body reacts, or move from the “moons” of your feet (the term for the base of your toes/ball/heel of your feet). This is explored and then layered with more tasks. For example you may be asked to move as if “your bones are swimming in your body” ... hang on a minute, don’t forget your “travelling stuff in your body” at the same time. Or even move as if “your flesh is grabbing your bones” (a whole different sensation!) This class climaxes to a finish with you moving to “your own groove”, exploring on your own what you have discovered in class and most of all, “connecting this to your passion to move... to dance!” At this point, after approximately an hour, your body is exhausted but the comment of “connecting to your passion” makes you rediscover your groove and you end up going for it!! At the end of the class, you are asked to shake it off as if you are taking a cold shower or rinsing spaghetti in hot water. Then you have a final patting/slapping down of the body and a final floating of the body as you feel the “travelling stuff” in your body from the vicious slapping or extreme movement.
As for Gaga Dancers classes, they are a must for every dancer. If you are fortunate to be a dancer in London, there is a weekly Gaga class at Danceworks by Chisato Ohno (details). As a dancer, I have never explored so many possibilities of how I can move within my pliés, tendus and balances with little muscle use, or how they can be worked/pushed further or can be connected/disconnected from other body parts. There are superb challenges like shaking your body while still floating your arms. Applying more than one contrasting dynamic in your body is an excellent challenge. And considering I have been in intensive dance training for the last two and a half months, I believe my lack of aches and pains and injury is down to Gaga.
I have so far had three really memorable Gaga classes. The first was my first class with one of my favourite Gaga teachers, Aya Israeli, former rehearsal director for Batsheva Dance Company. I came out of this first class feeling as though I was Moses who had just finished his 40-year travel in the desert: I felt free, exuberated and spiritually awake. My second was with Aya again - she is such an inspiration with her energy, charm and talent - where we finished with the whole class really connecting to their own and the class groove, to an upbeat house dance track. At the end of the lesson we were all buzzing so much we stayed much after the class dancing around the room: we all had connected to our passion to move. My third was with my second-favourite Gaga teacher, Yaniv Abraham. He pushes you way past your strength, flexibility and stamina limits and reminds you to “connect your pain to pleasure”. In one class with Yaniv I found that when I was exhausted, I connected my pain to forcing myself to enjoy the “burn” and bam! I found I could go further than I could have ever before. I have never sweated so much in my life - and I’ve done the London Marathon, so that’s saying something!
Some of you as readers now might be reading this information about Gaga and be thinking “oooh it’s not my cup of tea” (I had to put that in as I’m constantly being mocked for my Britishness here in Israel) but trust me, the “pre-gaga” me would have thought the same. Watch Batsheva Dance Company in action (see below), and you will see how these dancers have such a distinctive quality of moving, as if they have an animal “brewing” up on the inside which darts out at unexpected moments. Also, the dancers appear as though every muscle fibre has the power of a lion but the softness of a feather - and this is down to the daily Gaga classes that the dancers take. Dancers from all around the world are storming Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Centre (The Sadler’s Wells of Israel) to take one of the daily Gaga classes on offer.
So that’s a quick overview of one of the main reasons for why I am here in Israel. Ever since I first saw Batsheva Dance Company in 2008, I've wanted to move with the fierce and explosive nature of Batsheva Dancers. Also, I'm a big lover of Israel and I am very blessed to be mixing my huge passions in life: dance and Israel. Furthermore, after being a full-time-and-more dance teacher, I felt I needed a career break to find fresh ideas and rebuild my technique.
In Israel’s past, the dancers of the 1930s travelled to Europe to study Expressionist dance techniques, the Israeli dancers of the 1960s travelled to New York to study modern dance styles. Now, the whole world is travelling to Israel to study here and get into companies like Batsheva Dance Company, Batsheva Ensemble (Batsheva’s younger company) or Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, which boasted over 400 applicants to their latest auditions. Also, the UK’s strongest current talents boast Israeli: Hofesh Shechter (a former dancer with Batsheva Dance Company) and Jasmin Vardimon (a former dancer with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company).
So here I am at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance studying a year of dance with two amazing intensive courses.
Please go and check out Batsheva Ensemble to see Ohad Naharin’s Deca Dance on tour. Deca Dance is a collection of sections from many of Naharin’s work, so you will Naharin’s choreography at his best: powerful, explosive and soul grabbing! You can catch them at Sadler’s Wells 19th to 21st November: tickets are still available from www.sadlerswells.com/show/Batsheva-Ensemble-Deca-Dance