Originally from Buenos Aires, teacher and choreographer Karina Lambert and her husband, dancer and performer Dani Pustilnik, share their insights about Israeli folk dancing.
Karina and Dani now live in California. She leads a weekly Monday-evening, mostly-partner, Israeli folk dance session in Los Angeles.
DOTA: Are any other members of your family interested in dance or music?
KL: Yes, my family is very “artistic.” My older sister is an accomplished salsa
dancer. She has been taking lessons for 5 years or so. My younger brother is a
musician; he is a piano player and composer (although he has a regular job helping at my dad’s business). My mother used to be a piano teacher for many years; she changed from playing the piano to painting. She is now an art painter and she is even selling some of her paintings here in the U.S. My dad is a great dancer with a lot of sense of rhythm although he is mostly in the “sports” side; he loves riding his bike, water skiing, horse
riding and any kind of challenging sports!
DOTA: What types of music and dance do you remember when you were a child growing up in Buenos Aires?
KL: It was mostly Latin American rock and roll. My older sister introduced me to
many of her favorite singers at that time. At the age of 11, when I started my Israeli dancing life, I started listening to all the Hebrew songs that I loved. One of my first favorite singers was Shlomo Artzi.
At 10, I took ballet for 3 years or so, and then as I kept Israeli dancing, I started
taking other classes like jazz, modern, International Folk Dancing. I took flamenco for a year, and the last couple of years before moving to the U.S. I was taking ballet and modern dance technique twice a week. I also took yoga lessons for many years, which helped me a lot to develop strength and breathing technique. I love taking any kind of classes to improve my dancing skills.
DOTA: Where did you first go to Israeli folk dancing?
KL: I was around 11 years old. It was at a JCC in Buenos Aires. I started going because I used to attend youth group events at that JCC and they had Israeli folk dancing on Sunday afternoons. When I realized I loved dancing and that it was great fun I started attending weekly sessions for my age range. The classes were led by certified teachers in Israeli folk dancing. In Buenos Aires, there is an “Ulpan Le Morim Le Rikudei Am,” a course to become an Israeli folk dance teacher like they have in Israel (it was actually taken from the same idea and structure). When I did it (many years ago) it was a 2-year course; now it is only 1 year. At this Ulpan you learn many repertoire dances but also how to teach them, how to work with different age groups. You learn about Jewish Chagim, about the different traditional groups that are part of Israeli dancing such us Chasidim, Yemenite, Russian, etc., how to plan a session and other stuff!!
DOTA: When you went Israeli folk dancing regularly in Buenos Aires, what type of group was it? Did they play only Israeli or mixed with international?
KL: In Buenos Aires the traditional stuff is very much respected and appreciated. So, I grew up mostly with dances from Shmulik Gov-Ari, Shlomo Maman, Rivka Shturman, Yonatan Karmon, Moshiko and others. The most danced rikudei-am are the circles and only in the last five to seven years, I would say, they started playing more line dancing. But, there is always a tendency not to teach dances that are not to Hebrew lyrics. The couple dances are played but much less since there are a very low percentage of men dancing. They play mostly Israeli and very few international.
Karina line dancing
(Photo copyright Alex Huber)
DOTA: In what language was the instruction?
DOTA: Do the dancers in the groups in Argentina like the same or different styles of Israeli folk dances as in the U.S.?
KL: More or less the same. They used to get the repertoire from someone who would be lucky enough to travel to a dance camp in the past. Now, with the videos for purchase and some scholarships that some kind dance camp hosts give out, some of the teachers can get to go and bring the material to share. I am also helping them all the time, giving them lists with repertoire suggestions. I send them the music and last June I taught a 4-hour workshop for around 50 teachers with updated dances for them to teach to their groups. During the last three or four years the group of teachers travel to Machol Europa to learn and bring material to the rest of the people.
DOTA: Are there any favorite singers for Israeli dances that dancers like in
KL: I am not sure if I know this answer. I am an absolute fan of Israeli music and it is also a way for me to learn the language, so I became an addict of many of the singers for the dances we do, like Yossi Azulay, Gali Atari, Eyal Golan, Sagiv Cohen, Shlomo Artzi, Rita and Rami Kleinstein, Ofra Haza and many others. But I am not sure if people in Buenos Aires are so involved in this.
DOTA: After you went to the Ulpan Le Morim le Rikudu Am – did you teach a regular group of dancers?
KL: First of all, during the last months of being at the Ulpan I had to do a “practice” by observing a group for a period of time, then reviewing a dance and at the very end teaching another dance with the directors of the Ulpan observing me. After that I was offered two jobs: one of them teaching kids at a JCC and the other one was teaching adults at a Jewish organization during the weekend.
DOTA: What was the group like?
KL: The kids’ group was challenging and fun. I started putting my knowledge as a youth group advisor together with my studies at the Ulpan to lead a fun class teaching elements of IFD (Israeli folk dancing) and choreographing for the “End of the Year” show. The adult group was a great opportunity to build a new group and teach a lot of repertoire dances! I remember starting with the very basics and I kept that group for about four to five years so they were pretty good by the end! A lot of people joined through the time I was the teacher.
Karina at Machol Miami 2005
(Photo copyright Alex Huber)
DOTA: In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of being an Israeli folk dance teacher?
KL: I am not sure there is only one aspect. But I can say that one of them is having the ability to observe and learn from your group of students to be able to give them what is most appropriate for them. Also, together with conveying my love for dancing I think IFD is a way to spread the Israeli culture and many people feel connected to their “roots” through Israeli dancing. It is a big responsibility for a teacher to know this. That is why I also try to build a community (it is part of the Jewish culture). One other thing I would add, is that another important aspect is to know that the learning process and the session itself have to be fun, because this is a recreational way of approaching an activity; so, it is important to make it fun and make people feel good!
DOTA: Is it different teaching in Buenos Aires than in the U.S.?
KL: It is a little different, yes. In Buenos Aires the structure of the IFD groups/sessions are a little different. They have mostly 1 1/2 to 2 hours of class in which you dance, teach and review the same repertoire each week. The teacher keeps adding new repertoire each week and many groups also work on putting together a dance to perform for a High Holiday or an “End Of The Year” show. Also, the teaching pace is slower than in the U.S.
DOTA: When did you start teaching Israeli folk dance groups in English?
KL: Around eight years ago, a man called Silvio Berlfein (the choreographer of the line dance Hine Ma Tov) who lives in the State of Florida, and was one of the main personalities in the birth and growth of IFD in Argentina, came looking for a teacher to come to the U.S. and work at a Jewish Summer camp. I was interested in having this kind of experience and accepted the challenge. So he connected me with people from BBYO (B’nai B’rith Youth Organization) and though terrified about teaching in a different language, and spending a whole summer away from home with a totally different culture, I was very attracted to the idea and said yes. So in 1997, I flew from Buenos Aires to Pennsylvania. The experience was so good that I kept coming for 7 years! This past summer they had a Camp here in Southern California so it was great to be able to be back home to Dani, my husband and my beloved cat Chagall.
DOTA: When did you first choreograph a dance?
KL: Well, in Argentina choreographing is a quite common task for IFD teachers working with kids. Mostly because 90 % of the IFD groups are held at JCC’s that have a very good organization and schedule performances during the whole year as part of the learning experience. So I guess I started choreographing pieces around sixteen years ago. But, to choreograph a piece to perform is not the same as choreographing a “rikud” [Israeli folk dancing]. There are some differences to it. My first “rikud” creations were several years ago when I choreographed a couple of Israeli dances for kids – one of them together with two other colleagues as part of a dance camp for kids, and one on my own to add to the repertoire of IFD for children.
Karina line dancing at Machol Miami 2005
(Photo copyright Alex Huber)
DOTA: Describe creating your dances Oye El Boom and Tazizi.
KL: Ok…let’s see… Oye El Boom was created mostly to come up with something fun to present at David Dassa’s 2004 Thanksgiving Marathon. He suggested at that time that if I had something fun and energetic it could be introduced in that special occasion. So I started looking for a song and found Oye El Boom at a music store and fell in love with the energy. I decided to create a line dance because I feel it is a structure that is easier for me to handle. But, I just finished my first circle dance [Eshal] and I am very excited about it!
Tazizi was different. I heard the music first and thought it had great rhythm and fun style. I said, ‘I have to get this song!’ So, I started choreographing while I was waiting to see if I could register the song. By the time I got the answer I finished the dance! The problem was that the song already belonged to someone else!! I was so disappointed!! But I decided to ask the owner of the song (whom I happened to know) and see if the person had done something with it already. There is hope in the world and nice unselfish people also! I was given the song to present Tazizi at a Camp I was going to attend.
DOTA: What has been the difference in the experience for you co-choreographing and creating dances on your own?
KL: Creating a dance is not an easy task at all. Sometimes you wake up with a bunch of ideas and sometimes you get stuck for hours in one single step that doesn’t get anywhere. When I create, I think mostly of the meaning of the song and what emotions I feel from the music. Every part is like creating a story, a short tale of steps that flow together to say something. This may sound easy and fast; but most of the time it is not! Choreographing with someone else is very good in many ways, because it gives you a lot of chances to play with many more ideas than only your own; but, it can be difficult also to match your taste and ideas with someone else’s. I am pretty tough on myself and I think, rethink, check and try a million times until I decide I am done (and after that I am still not sure about it!) But, I guess it takes time and practice and being ready for failure as much as success.
DOTA: Who has been an influence on you in the folk dance community either in Argentina or in the U.S. and what has been the influence?
KL: Many of the teachers I had in Argentina influenced me and helped me take the best from each of them to combine it in my personal way of being a teacher. I have to honestly say that the Argentinean IFD Community gave me the core formation to become what I am. From some of them I got the love for IFD, from others the sense of planning, organizing and being responsible. Some of them showed me ways by just being themselves and giving suggestions whenever I needed in my learning process. From the teachers in the U.S. I got mostly the timing, some differences in structure of the sessions, and the way they behave with their community. As I see it, one keeps learning and growing all the time. All of your senses should be open. I watch, I listen; I am open to take criticism and suggestions because my job is for the community.
Karina at Tamaron 2005
(Photo copyright Alex Huber)
DOTA: You are very busy, teaching regular session, teaching at camps, demonstrating and choreographing. Where do you get your energy?
KL: Ha, ha! Good question. Ok, I am not sure where. Maybe the Caramel Macchiato I take at Starbucks every morning? No wait! In Buenos Aires there is no Starbucks and I was more or less the same! Ha, ha! I guess I just have such a deep feeling of love and gratefulness for what IFD represents in my life that I can’t help showing it. Besides, it gave me the opportunity to meet my wonderful husband!!
Karina teaching dancers at Tamaron 2005
(Photo copyright Alex Huber)
DOTA: What is the best experience of being involved in Israeli folk dancing?
KL: Mmm… I feel the best experience is the opportunity to connect with such a diverse group of people who may have uncountable differences but a huge love in common: IFD. Through that, you realize that there are actually more things in common with that community than just folk dancing. Isn’t this amazing?
Also, there are two added benefits at a personal level: one is this unexplainable feeling of having a group of friends (kind of like a family) who meet at dance camps and party, dance, share and enjoy as if we were together every day. I find this exciting and crazy at the same time (and I absolutely love it!); and number two is more in the emotional field.
For many, many years I was used to learning the repertoire in Argentina mostly from dance notations and videos. The choreographers seemed to be like “untouchable famous characters” coming out of a TV screen. Being here in the U.S. gave me the great opportunity to learn from them in person as well as generating friendships with some of them. I feel very lucky.
DOTA: Have you encountered any difficulties or obstacles?
KL: Well, tell me about someone who hasn’t! Part of growing professionally and making your own way is the fact that you have to take more responsibilities and make decisions that leave other choices out. I think any professional field you can think of is colored with greed, fears, selfishness and other non-happy stuff. The key is to learn how to position yourself in relation to this and keep your energy focused in the positive aspect of what you do. I am grateful for what I do and I have this love to share, this is the best I can offer. Whoever wants to take it and share it is more than welcomed to do it.
DOTA: What do you think is important to know about Israeli folk dancing for new dancers and for long-time dancers?
KL: For new dancers, I always tell them to give themselves time and be patient until their bodies and minds get in the “IFD mood.” Learning IFD is like learning a new language; you need all your senses to get used to it and your body to work hard till it starts flowing. After you start feeling this, there is no way back!!
For long time dancers I would tell them to keep their spirit and find ways to recreate their love for this. When IFD is just “exercise” it doesn’t make any more sense to me. I would also say that it is good to give an opportunity to the new stuff, because there is this idea of “everything new is not as it used to be.” I don’t think it is always the case. It is good to be open-minded and sometimes you can be happily surprised.
DOTA: Describe your Monday night group in Los Angeles?
KL: Ok, “my Monday night” doesn’t sound accurate to me. I say this because one of the things I like and am most proud of, is the fact that people seem to show this feeling of “belonging” to a community. And I can see and sense this with comments, jokes, and attitudes of the participants that make me really happy. Someone said to me once, ‘I don’t know why, but I see these same people in other sessions and only here they are all nice and talking to each other!!’ This was a big compliment – to the group! I guess I have a little bit to do with it, but I think people need a place to have fun, learn and feel good! This is what I am trying to do on Monday nights. There is a core group of people who came to this session only to do partner dances until I took over and made some changes to that. I am still testing things and sometimes I am afraid to innovate; but it is also part of growing. A good group of newcomers are now also part of the session and I am slowly trying to help them catch up with repertoire so they can feel more integrated to the group. This is quite a unique session in the sense that it has mostly partner dances, that the repertoire is not only the mainstream one, that you mostly need someone to come with [dance partner], and on top of that I play circle dances that are hardly played other than at camps. So, it is a beautiful challenge!! I am very happy I decided to take the big step. I really hope the group keeps growing and I can grow with it!!
Link for Karina’s dance Oye El Boom
Link for Karina’s dance Tazizi
Karina will be a guest choreographer at Tamaron 2006 dance camp. She is scheduled to be guest choreographer at Hilula, 2006, and Machol Europa 2006
Link for Argentine choreographer Silvio Berlfein’s line dance Hine Ma Tov: http://homepage.mac.com/israeli_folk_dances/iMovieTheater443.html
DOTA: What types of dancing have you done including Israeli folk dancing?
DP: Not much besides Israeli. I studied a few months with Graham when I started Israeli,
more than 20 years ago in Buenos Aires; I was trying to get some technique for performing.
I did three to four months of Arabic (dancing) in Buenos Aires, ten years ago, because
a friend asked me to participate in her Arabic-dance performing group. I did a few months
of Salsa here (U.S.), last year just to try something different.
DOTA: How did you start Israeli Folk Dancing?
DP: By 1982, I was singing in the “Sociedad Hebraica Argentina” Choir. We shared a
stage once with the Israeli dancing group called “Darkeinu,” which also belonged to the
same kind of JCC. It was my first contact with Israeli dancing. That was love at first sight!
I was amazed; all my senses were caught by that astonishing experience. I said to myself, ‘I wish I could do something like this.’ It took me two years to overcome my fears,
prejudices and embarrassment; but then, after a few months, I was dancing in six different classes/performing groups. One of my teachers, Gisella Kotliar, used to give me and other
guys private classes. We also used to meet at homes with more advanced dancers to learn
DOTA: Who were your first Israeli folk dancing teachers?
DP: Gisella Kotliar, Alicia Szabo, Horacio Sagray, Dani Adatto, Edu Waiskop and others.
Most of them belonged to “Darkeinu.”
DOTA: With which performing groups have you performed?
DP: Galguil, Neviot, Nitzanim, Guilboa, Masmeret and Darkeinu. All of them are from
Argentina. The last three are still active and from the last two are my closest friends.
I didn’t like to perform that much, but I liked to be part of a group and do something
different from the regular Israeli dancing. I always considered it more important to enjoy rehearsals than the performing itself.
DOTA: Have you ever taught dancing?
DP: No I haven’t. I never wanted to be a teacher. On one hand, I just don’t know how
to teach. On the other one, I don’t want to know. I love this activity and I’m afraid of loosing
part of the fun.
DOTA: What type of Israeli dances or music do you like best?
DP: I like almost everything. Since I moved to the U.S. my favorites are partner dances but
I like circle and line too. I don’t understand the lyrics, so, it’s just the feeling of the sound. I
don’t like the ones with Tango music that much.
DOTA: Compare your dancing experience in Argentina to the U.S.
DP: In Argentina the performing was, and still is much more developed than the
classes/sessions. We used to learn few couple dances a year because there are very
few men dancing and women have to dance with other women. We learned most
of the couple dances in the U.S. It was a pleasant contrast to find so many guys here
In Argentina we have mostly 90-minute classes, for different levels and ages. There are no
four-hour-sessions for everyone. There are no camps in Argentina. My first camp was Rikud
2003. Another huge contrast is the level of the teaching, with few exceptions on both sides
(few bad teachers in Argentina-few good here).
DOTA: What is the best part of the experience of dancing Israeli folk dancing for you?
DP: Of course I love dancing itself, but the best part is what comes with it.
I don’t know if I can even describe what Israeli folk dancing has been for me, but
I’ll try. Since I started more than 20 years ago my life changed almost completely.
I know it might be hard to understand, but I’m a different person now. I’ve met my
wife and so many good friends. And finally, it has helped us to make our move to the
U.S. a smooth experience.
DOTA: How are performing dance groups in Argentina different from the U.S.?
DP: I’ve seen only one in the U.S. and participated in and seen many in Argentina.
The level of the dancers used to be very high years ago in Argentina. It’s still
good but less than before. Here they are very good. In Argentina, costumes
are simpler because there is no budget. Choreography is much more developed there.
Dani (r) at Israeli folk dance group with choreographer Rafi Ziv (photo courtesy Karina Lambert
DOTA: Describe your first dancing experience?
DP: It was Israeli dancing. My first class was very frustrating. I couldn’t
even put two steps together. The teacher was trying to help me and that was
frustrating for her too.
I thought I’d never make it. Fortunately, I didn’t give up and I’m still enjoying it.
Note: In addition to enjoying Israeli folk dancing, Dani assists demonstrating
Israeli folk dance partner dances that are taught by Karina, Monday nights,
in Los Angeles, CA.
Links for Sociedad Hebraica Argentina and Israeli Dances Folkloricas Darkeinu, of the
Society Hebraica Argentina