Dance Today- the Dance Magazine of Israel
Editors: Dr. Ruth Eshel & Dr. Henia Rottenberg
Issue no. 17, May 2010, pp 61-67
Published with the assistance of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sports
Publisher: Tmuna Theatre
Gila Toledano, who passed away at the age of 82 in October 2009, is knows to the dance community due to her contribution and special relationship with Sarah Levy Tanai and the Inbal Dance theatre and with the Dance Library in Beit Ariela. Following are translated from Hebrew parts of the interview Aviva Ori held with her in July 1999, by courtesy of the Dance Library at Beit Ariela.
How did you come to engage as a folk-dancing instructor?
I started with folk dancing in 1943. I was an active member of the youth movement "Gordonya" (after the reunion with a branch of "Machanot Haolim" [the newcomers camps], the new movement was called "Hatnu'a Hame'uchedet" [the United Movement]. We were getting ready for the Movement's Day, which was due to take place in the presence of the Yishuv leaders at that time. With the 'chutzpah' [impudence] of youth and the lack of knowledge of those days, I took upon myself to organize the event performances. Among them I wanted to include a performance of a medley of folkdances. Here I encountered a problem – in fact, there are no Israeli folkdances, excluding two or three dances – Yemina Yemina, Cherkesiya, and Cherkesiya kfulla. Along with those, we danced the dances the first pioneers brought to the country and turned them into our folkdances – Polka, Krakoviak and the Horah. It was hard to imagine a festive performance composed of these dances. I turned to Gurit Kadman (then Gert Kaufmann), my former teacher, and asked for her advice. Her answer was: "This is the problem". She told me that she had brought together folkdance creators from various parts of the country to create dances for various holidays and events. Each one of them was confined to the place where he work and operated – like Rivka Shturman, Lea Bergstein, Shalom Hermon, Ze'ev Havatzelet as well as youngsters who operated in this field in various settlements. The goal was to get out of this confinement – to learn from each other and disseminate the dances, thus fertilizing the folk creation that was beginning to form in the country. This was the beginning of the folkdance movement.
Gurit invited me to participate. This is how I started my activity as an instructor in the folkdance movement set up by Gurit Kadman, an activity that lasted about 16 years. The circumstance in the country at that time (the Palmach and the War of Independence) did not always enable me on-going activity, though I tried not to miss any meeting and/or course. Upon the end of the War of Independence Gurit Kadman offered me to leave any other work and devote myself to instructing folk dances, since there was readiness in the Ministry of Education to try and introduce folkdance lessons into the extra-curricular framework (after the formal school hours). This was an appealing and tempting offer. Here a new and interesting chapter started for me.
Haim Dagan was a supervisor at the Ministry of Education, who favored the idea and started setting it in motion. Walking down the corridors of the Ministry of Education (then located in Tel-Aviv, on Rothschild Ave.) we were greeted with the words:"Here are the two madmen". The words were said in good spirit, yet doubtlessly it looked like a dream in an illusive brain. And like any dream, only people with a passionate interest make the way for its materialization. The dream came true and the experience succeeded way beyond our expectations. After several years, Shalom Hermon revived it in the framework of the "Dancing School Project". I taught in elementary schools in a network deployed from Rehovot to Pardes Hannah, and that in addition to groups and dancing troupes in various settlements. In fact, I became the first "professional" amongst the folkdance instructors, and in those days the only one. I devoted myself to working only in this field, and not as an additional job or a hobby.
I preferred working at newcomers' settlements and in the suburbs rather than with "spoiled and sated" youth from well-established homes, because there I felt I was needed and contributing. At that time the newcomers' settlements were located mainly near the border, and their living conditions were hard, generally without electricity. In these places we held our activities in the light of field lanterns. Most of the instructors' work was done without any music and we generally accompanied ourselves with singing, where it was possible. The musical accompaniment was by means of small records, issued by Gurit Kadman for a few of the dance songs which were popular then (Ma'im Ma'im, Harmonica, Horah Agadati ect.).
I'll tell you one incident from that period. I was teaching in one of the newcomers' settlements located not far from Petch Tikva, but was considered a border settlement since it was located near the border at that time, a border that was not quiet. It was one of the single cases in which I had an accordionist to accompany me. My gain was doubled – I had an accompanist and in addition, he owned a motorcycle with an extra side seat so he could drive me and my accordion. One day, my accompanist informed me in the last moment that he was unable to come. I knew that the group members were waiting for me, and since I had no communication means with the settlements (there were no phones) to let them know that the lesson was cancelled, I went by bus up to Petch Tikva and from there hitchhiked up to the path leading to the Moshav (small holders' cooperative settlement) that was several kilometers long. Only due to my sense of responsibility did I walk this distance alone, although it was already dark. Obviously, by the time I arrived I found a dark sleeping Moshav. Fortunately, I met several boys from the dancing group on their way home. They were astounded to see me. I apologized for the big delay and explained to them what had happened and how I came despite everything. Their reaction was: "Everybody has already gone to sleep. Do you want to tell us that you have walked alone in the dark to the main road?" They accompanied me and waited till a car that would take me to Petach Tikva arrived. There was no lesson, but I surely had "an experience" in the spirit of the period.
Did you dance in the "Hapoel" Dance Group?
I danced in the "Hapoel" dance group that existed at the time, with Gurit Kadman as the instructor. From that group the generation of instructors emerged. This is the first group in which we performed the Sherale and the Sher [Hassidic music and dances-DB]. These were the dances that we rehearsed and performed. We trained at the Nahmani Hall in Tel-Aviv, which served in those days as Hapoel's Gym hall. The courses for folkdance instructors took place in various locations in Tel-Aviv – Bet Hinuch (The house of Education) in Tchernichovsky St., Bet Pe'ilei Hahistadrut and more, as well as outside Tel-Aviv. There were Friday-Saturday gatherings and there were courses that lasted a week and even more in camp-boarding-school conditions. It did not matter where we met the main thing was that we danced. We had, on various occasions, performances that I would call – small ones, not "bombastic" performances. At that time the madness of travelling abroad, which was accelerated later, did not exist yet. The first dancing group that went abroad on a tour, as a professional group, was Inbal in 1957. It is true that about three times, if I am not mistaken about the number, also an amateur Israeli dance group of Israeli folkdances took part in festivals of the Social Democratic Youth organized by Zeev Havatzelet, on behalf of my movement – Hashomer Hatza'ir. For this purpose he established a group ad-hoc. I did not belong to this trend of the Working Israel and took no part in it.
How was your relationship established with Sara Levi Tanai and Inbal?
Sara was teaching the first Folkdance instructors' courses when I first met her. I met her husband, Yisrael, through a close friend of mine, who worked with him at the Israel Teachers' Union (Yisrael was the office manager of the Teachers' Union). One evening in 1950 the three couples met – Yisrael and Sara, my friend and her husband and I and my husband – at a theatre play at Habima. On this occasion Sarah asked to meet with me. In our meeting she told me that she was offered by Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (Jewish National Fund) and Keren Hayeson (United Israel Appeal) to prepare the Water Festival that was going to take place on Shavuot (Pentecost), marking the laying of the water pipe to the eleven 'hunger road' settlements, which had settled in the Negev. She could not accept this job unless I agreed to work with her. Sara would prepare the performance program; I would receive the material from her and teach the settlements' members who would participate in the event (Sara had two little children and was unable to go out to the settlements and prepare them for the event). Should I accept her offer she would accept their offer, subject to its being a package deal – Sara and Gila. Of course I agreed.
In the course of my work with Sara on the Feast of Shavuot and the Water she told me that she had assembled youth of Yemenite origin, and that she was working with them. She was not sure yet where she was heading, however, she felt a deep need to work with them and absorb their authenticity. Sara asked me to help her with this work of hers. In terms of that time I was already considered "a professional"' since I had studied and worked in this field for several years. From the large group of about 30 youngsters she worked with remained a small and assiduous group of seven, who are the founders of the future Inbal. I started working with them in 1951, after the performance in the Negev. I used to sit when Sarah was teaching, and then I gave the rehearsals and "cleaned" the material they had studied from Sara.
By the way, Gurit was very angry with me for supposedly having "betrayed" her and followed Sara. For several years she continued bearing a grudge against me. But in fact, at the same time as I was working with Sarah and her group I continued teaching folkdances throughout the country – dance study circles, groups, performances, giving courses for young instructors. I went on doing it for several years longer, up to Inbal's first trip abroad in 1957 which lasted 8 months. Upon my return from the tour I continued teaching here and there, but this was already the end of my work as a folkdance instructor. There were two reasons, one following the other: I experienced great disappointment concerning the line our folkdances developed. A change occurred in the concept of the approach towards performances – emphasis on external impression and various gimmicks that affected the approach towards folkdances in general. In my opinion, this change was at the expense of the work of creation that should have still been seeking its roots and its way. I said – sorry, I am not willing to give a hand to this. We should remember that we are talking about the beginning of the 1950's. We are still at the beginning of the road. We still do not know what the Israeli folkdances will be like; we are still searching and seeking our new identity and the contents of its expressions, as Rivka Shturman is doing. Turning to the external will harm and might even destroy the slow and in-depth construction, which will eventually produce the Israeli Folk Dance. A mixture was generated – the stage "got into" the folk dance, the social dance. It was forgotten that there is a difference between a folkdance for the stage, and the simple folkdance danced in society; the power of folkdance lies in its simplicity, which can be danced by anyone at any age. The mixture of these domains, the wrong direction caused certain contempt. In the performances, less attention was given to the dancing steps and more emphasis was given to gimmicks and to drawing applauds. I did not like it, but unfortunately, we were only a small group who thought so, among them was Tamar Elyagon. We rebelled and we did not want to accept the change in the folkdances. We maintained that we were still at the initial period of our folkdances. We were still searching the uniqueness which characterizes and fits in and any diversion from this way at such an early stage would divert our doing to undesirable directions. The [dance] creators are still with us and they are not anonymous. We have learnt from the original and it was our duty to pass on the dances accurately, as we have studied from the creators themselves. This small group did not have the power to stop the drift (unfortunately I was not wrong. The facts in the field – the shallowness and the inflation of the folkdances prove it). The establishment was stronger. They wanted to send folkdance group to perform abroad and then of course it was important how they look. The merrymaking and revelry started around this.
How would you really define folkdances in general and an Israeli folkdance in particular?
Our folkdances did not grow slowly and organically in a homogeneous society and a closed environment. We create our own folkdances. A motley population has gathered in the country when the only element linking us together is our being Jewish, having the same ancient traditional roots and with one aspiration – to renew our homeland in our ancient country. Our culture, the Israeli one, will emerge from this heterogeneous crowd, and it is that which will generate the glue uniting us into one people. At this stage we are still in the formation process. It is impossible to define what the Israeli folkdance is. It was created in an artificial way – a non-sifted and unclear mix and sometime even shallow. However, one prominent element can be pointed out: there is certain energy and a certain color characterizing our folkdance. Even when a "non-Israeli" dance is danced – it is performed differently, with a different color. We can see it also in the artistic dance.
Do you have any criticism regarding what is being done in the field of Israeli folkdances?
The doing has turned into the "industry" of folkdances – as a business of making money; an inflation of new dances without any creative thinking or search for roots and means. A complete blur has occurred between folkdances and their significance and fashionable universal social dances. The entire work of search for the Israeli folkdance has stopped in its early stages, prior to their consolidation. This is also expressed in the melodies and songs accompanying the dances. A folkdance is built up from several basic steps characterizing its people and several melodies and songs accompany it. With us, each song and melody has several dances. Even foreign songs, which are universally fashionable, such as Eurovision songs are not abhorred. One gets the impression that there is a competition – who will compose more dances regardless of their movement or musical quality.
Despite my criticism about what is happening in the field of our folkdances, I would like to end this section in an optimistic note. Dancing is a social need and people want to dance and sing. Nowadays, folk dancing is not shared only by few, but encompasses the entire nation on its various ages. Therefore, maybe excessive doing, although uncontrolled, is better than a "drought". I believe in doing. From much doing – sifting is possible; if there is no doing there is nothing to sift. I am realistic and I know that in our era, when there are no boundaries and barriers against immediate world-wide influences, it is very difficult, or even impossible, to withdraw into a closed shell. Therefore, I put my hope on the sifting that time will perform. We do not know what will remain and what the Israeli folk dance will be. Only the future will tell.
And something about your biography
I was born in 1927 in Tel-Aviv. […] I wanted to study dancing, but my mother used to say, "How come dancing? Only Gypsies dance. Music – yes, to study music? That is all right; but to dance? No!" My attraction to dancing was stronger than any barrier, and I attained it through folk dancing. On this my mother reacted, "I didn't let you enter the dancing world through the door, so you entered through the window". But this was an unsmooth entrance. My true desire to dance has never been satisfied. All along the years I operated in the field of dancing, but not as I wanted – I was not a dancer. […] I want to tell you something that might clarify what dancing meant to me. When I started working with Inbal I was present in the rehearsals, and more than once I had to leave because I felt I was going to burst into tears. I wanted so badly to dance. I truly experienced it as a physical pain, but it was already too late. I was already married and a mother of small children. I could not afford such a drastic change that would doubtlessly harm my family. After all, it was not at all clear to me whether I was cut out to be a dancer, and if so – which level I could reach. In order to find out I would have to try myself in field work, which would undoubtedly harm my family. Only a great talent can justify such an extreme step. I believed that I had no moral right to make the experience on my family's back, therefore it was too late. I gave up and decided: "If that is the case, do whatever you can so that others will dance". I completely plunged into the Inbal project. Inbal was not a place of work for me. Inbal became part of me, my second home that sometimes even affected my first home. My family remained with a "trauma" called Inbal. No matter how hard I tried that the work in Inbal would not affect my home, everything I did for my home and in the difficult conditions that existed at that time – it did not help. They understood how important Inbal was for me – and they were jealous. They regarded Inbal as robbing the full-job mother from them. More than once I lodged some of Inbal's dancers at home. My daughter used to say that when she came home she would never know who of the Inbal members she would find in her room.
I wanted to dance so badly. Thanks to Anna Sokolov I attended the technique lessons the dance group received. I asked her if I could participate in the lessons and her answer was, "What kind of a question is that? What does it mean 'may I participate?' You must participate". I stood at the end of the group, on the last row, and for that I was scolded: "What are you hiding from in the back? Come forward, I want to see you". This is how I took technique lessons each morning. The dancers practiced technique for an hour and a half and I only one hour, and from there I went to my work regarding the group's affairs. This happened each morning for quite a while. What a pleasure!
Let's talk about the Dance Library
I retired from Inbal in 1977. My retirement is a story in itself and I will not get into it. In 1984 I started my work at the Dance Library. In the years in between I did various things, all in the field of art. I had a small episode with Bat-Sheva dance group where I serves as vice CEO, designated to the role of CEO. This was a momentary and definitely wrong decision – to exchange being the CEO of a group I took part in establishing, and to which I belongs for so many years with the role of CEO of another, already existing group, designed in its own way, and where, with all due respect, I did not feel I belonged to. Very quickly I came to my senses. I understood that it was not the place for me and not what I wanted to do. One of the things that gave me this feeling of strangeness was the fact that life in the group, in all its strata, was conducted in English.
After this episode I carried out some projects, among them – I organized, for 4 years, performance in the "Youth Town" in Tel-Aviv, and I organized the establishment of "The Tel-Aviv Youngsters' Group" on behalf of the municipality. And then, one day my friend Giora Manor, the dance critic addressed me and said that the dance library, which was till then part of the Tel-Aviv music library, registered as a fellowship named "The Dance Library of Israel". A public director was appointed, headed by Bari Svirsky, who was at the time the general manager of Bat-Dor Dance Company, and Giora was appointed the artistic advisor of the library. He said to me – "take the library into your hands. Come and see what can be done". So I came. What was revealed to me was rather poor. The library was allocated a rather small room on the top floor of the music library on Bialik Street in Tel-Aviv, which was called then – "The Music and Dance Library". The dance books and the cassettes were in the music library, on the first floor. This library is a lending library, and also the dance books and the cassettes were lent out (to date some dozens of books from that period are missing and some cassettes were totally ruined). There were not many dance books and some of them were not even catalogued. There were about 130 video cassettes. In the room serving the dance library there was one video device; some scattered and unorganized files; papers; various programs and press cuttings mainly of dance companies abroad.
The dance library was established in 1975, initiated by women in the United States – Ann Wilson (former dancer), Estelle Sommers (the owner of "Capezio"), Yami Strum (who was active in America-Israel Cultural Foundation). They established the Friends Association of the Library that continues working also today. With the consent of Shlomo Chich, the Mayor of Tel-Aviv at the time, the dance library was attached to the music library. The Friends Association worried about the books and the video cassettes and took care of financing a person in charge of the library. The library did not function as an organized orderly library and its main activity was foreign-activity – cooperation with institutions for screening dance films. A year and a half prior to my arrival, there was no one in charge of the library.
Giora and I exchanges thoughts about what to do. Upon my entering the job, I started first to put things in order to see what existed. I am not trained, nor was I trained then as a librarian. I have never studies librarianship or archivism. As someone coming from the world of dance, I asked myself what I would look for in such a library. First, I reached the conclusion that it was not possible to have an Israeli dance library almost without anything about Israel. As my first step I decided to make amends. It was clear to me that meeting with old dancers and collecting material was the first step to take. I met with Rivka Shturman and Yehudit Orenstein. I interviewed them and received from them much material about them and their work. In those very days Nili Cohen, the dance referent at the Ministry of Education addressed me and told me about an idea that had been revolving around for about two years: documentation of the dance in Israel. The most suitable place to carry out this project is the Dance Library. Now, as we were beginning to revive the library it was time to start this project. Was I ready to take upon myself the subject when the Ministry of Education and Culture would finance the project? This fitted well in my thinking about the library, and thus, the project of dance documentation in Israel commenced [Zvi Friedhaber and Ruth Eshel interviewed and brought materials to the archive]. It has grown and developed along the years and turned into the central field in the Dance Library in Israel and the unique one in the world
Throughout the years, the Culture and Art Department in the Ministry of Education and Culture continues financing this project.
The archives is only one field in the library's work. It is interesting how additional fields have developed, consolidating the dance library's character and way of action. One day a dancing teacher asked to bring her students to the library in order to show them video dancing films. I asked her what she wanted to show her students and I realized that there was no logical connection between the works of art she desired. I asked her why she had selected those works of art in particular and her answer was – because this is what she liked. I told her that in my opinion that was an incorrect approach. The students should be given first some background and explanation regarding what they were about to see, but furthermore, I believed that it was preferable to concentrate on one piece of work, to analyze and explain it; or, on a certain dance school of thought , and as demonstrations to the explanations – to show some parts of dances. Her students were very young and had no theoretical background. I explained to her that they would find it very difficult to watch complete, unfamiliar and uncomprehended works. They would get tired, loose interest and would become impatient. My words convinced her and she asked me if I would be willing to give her students a lecture. I did not know then that this opened an important library activity. Things developed quickly. More and more teachers started requesting lectures accompanies by video films.
And one more story. One day someone, who has a private conservatoire came to the library. He asked to bring his students to the library in order to teach them the connection between music and dance. Together we devised a program and we decided that he would prepare them in advance regarding the composers of the dance works they would see. Children at the age of 7-10 arrived. The exciting thing was that after a while this person came again and brought the library a present: an album with drawing, songs and stories the children prepared following the course in the library and the lecture they had attended. A new important domain of the library work has been devised, which has developed and encompassed not only students, but lecture are given to the open public in various frameworks.
An additional area that has developed in the library – counseling in preparing theoretical dance papers. This area too has commenced by chance without early planning. Nowadays this is obviously part of the library's work.
The library's activity was gradually clarified and with time its ways of action were consolidated. We saw great importance in dance education, and as such it is unique among the dance library in the world. Lending books and cassettes has stopped. The library has turned into a place of study and research and not a lending library. The library and its collections have grown and the place was too small. With the agreement of the Association of the Dance Library in Israel and the Municipality of Tel-Aviv, the library was relocated, in 1968, to its new dwelling in Bet Ariela. The relocation gave a big boost to its development […].
I did not establish the library, yet I turned it to what it is today, obviously, in cooperation with Giora Manor, the management, which backed me up along all the years, and the library staff. I believe in team work. In 1977 I retired. However, I continue doing for the library the best I can.