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ISRAELI FOLK DANCING IN SEATTLE: A Short History

by Gilbert Levitt, MD

 

Israeli folk dancing, as an organized group activity, started in Seattle in the summer of 1962. It has continued uninterrupted for fifty years until the present time. It all began when I started teaching classes at the University of Washington’s (UW) Student Activities Center (HUB). What follows is the story of how it all got started.

 

I started folk dancing during my third year of medical school in Rochester, New York, and I quickly fell in love with Israeli folk dancing. After graduating in June 1962, and prior to starting my internship at Madigan General Hospital in Tacoma, I traveled to  Hendersonville, North Carolina, to attend a one-week Israeli folk dance workshop led by Fred Berk, the Director of Israeli Folk dancing at the New York City 92nd Street YMCA. It was a great experience for me. I bought many of the dance albums, as I was eager to continue doing the dances I had learned.

 

Following the workshop, I drove across the United States in my Volkswagen, loaded with my clothing and the newly purchased Israeli folk-dancing records. I looked forward to continuing with Israeli folk dancing in the Seattle area. Five days later, on a Sunday- afternoon in late June of 1962, I arrived. I thought the best place to find Israeli folk dancing would be at Hillel at the University of Washington, so I headed directly to the campus. My plan was to ask some students where I could find Hillel. While driving around the university, I spotted four male students. I stopped my car to ask directions. When I explained to them why I was looking for Hillel, they couldn't believe their ears. You see, I had stumbled upon four Israeli graduate engineering students. They told me that they would love to do Israeli folk dancing, but they explained there was no place it was taught or done in the area, not even at Hillel. So I said that I would be happy to start teaching the material I had just learned. I pulled out my freshly acquired Israeli folk dance albums. When they saw the records they started jumping up and down with joy. Then, they insisted that I stay with them in Seattle for a few days before I had to leave for Tacoma to start my internship.

 

Saul Whitty, one of the students agreed to make the arrangements to have the dance classes held on campus at the Student Activities Center. I agreed to drive up from Madigan General Hospital in Tacoma on Sunday evenings to teach, and by the end of July Israeli folk dancing began. Initially, the classes were held in a small room near the Grand Ballroom. There were about thirty students. After I taught the dances, Saul would teach the words. After that, we would all dance and sing together.

 

In the adjacent Grand Ballroom, an Arthur Murray ballroom dance class was being taught. Our singing and dancing made a lot of noise, which enticed many of the ballroom dancers to wander over and watch us. Soon they joined our class, and by September, our classes had moved into the Grand Ballroom and the Arthur Murray class was moved into the smaller room. By the end of the summer there were more than one hundred people in our Israeli folk dancing class.

 

In the fall, I left the area to work at a hospital in Alabama. By that time, there was a strong nucleus of faithful Israeli folk dancers who came every Sunday. One of them volunteered to take over my position and continue leading and teaching the group.

 

To me, it is incredible that this group I started in 1962 has continued with wonderful volunteer leadership for fifty years without interruption. This, I believe, is due to the dedication and devotion of the new teachers and the enthusiasm for new Israeli folk dances by all those who attend.

 

I can't believe that it has been fifty years since I started the group. I wish you all continued happiness and joy from dancing. It has been a great part of my life and I am so happy to share this story with you.

 

I would like to offer this final thought from my life experience:

 

Work like you don't need money.

Love like you've never been hurt.

AND DANCE LIKE NO ONE'S WATCHING*.

 

Sincerely,

Gil Levitt, MD

 

PS. These are the dances that I taught this first year: Hineh Ma Tov; Mayem; Shiboleth Bassedah; Ta'am Haman; Hassidik Line Dance; Boi Tamar; Le Or Hi u Ha; Ma Navu; Hassidik Folk Dance; At Va Ani.

*Quote from baseball legend Satchel Paige.

The piece below was written in 2012, in honor of our 50th Anniversary:

seattle israeli dance