Avirah teaches, shares Israeli dance with local community

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Avirah dancers perform and teach Israeli dances with others. Photo courtesy of Hannah Weisman.

By Matt Levine
For Mitzpeh
@_MattSLevine

Avirah, this university’s Israeli Dance Company, performs and teaches Israeli dance all across the East Coast.

The group returned to campus in 2013 after a hiatus and has been performing and teaching for the last six years.

Avirah performs at cultural events on campus and also at the annual DC Israeli Dance Festival, the New York Israeli Dance Festival and the Israeli Folkdance Festival of Boston.

Avirah is an entirely student-run club that rehearses twice a week, with open dancing once a month where this university’s community is invited to join them. These open dance sessions are called Rikudei Tzav, which translates to “dancing turtles,” as a reference to this university’s terrapin mascot.

“We hold, basically, open dance lessons for all of us on campus,” said Hannah Weisman, the Avirah artistic director. “Anyone is welcome, and we’ll do some teaching of basic Israeli dances and give everyone a little bit of an insider opportunity to dance with us.”

Avirah accepts students regardless of their experience in Israeli dancing.

Junior aerospace engineering major Moshe Ackman joined Avirah as a freshman who had no experience with Israeli dancing.

“I saw the flyer in the lobby of my dorm and I had never tried it,” Ackman said. “But I figured, ‘Well, I love dancing and I love Israel, so let’s try it out.’”

Avirah performs at big festivals up and down the East Coast and also performs at old-age homes and Hebrew schools around the DMV area. Not only do they teach Israeli dances to the Hebrew school students and perform for the old-age home residents, but they also get paid to do it, which in turn helps with fundraising and covering traveling costs.

“The purpose for us is fundraising,” said Avirah President Sarah Paley. “When we go to Hebrew schools, we teach, and when we go to nursing homes, we perform.”

Weisman, a senior educational neuroscience research major, grew up in the Washington area and started Israeli dancing at a very young age.

“There’s a really large community in the D.C. area, and I grew up in it,” Weisman said. “I did dancing since I was in kindergarten, and I started performing when I was in sixth grade.”

Paley, a senior finance and information systems major, started dancing in elementary school and rediscovered it in college.

“It opens up a community that is just incredible,” Paley said. “There’s a whole dancing community out there that I never would have known about if I hadn’t gotten involved with the group.”

A few dancers in Avirah also participated in middle school and high school Israeli dance groups, allowing them to bring their experiences to college and to Avirah at this university.

After auditioning and getting accepted into Avirah, members join a tight-knit group of students at this university who share similar interests.

The members often spend time together and hang out with each other outside of rehearsal or performances. Joining Avirah is an outlet for students at this university to meet new people with similar interests, Jewish or not, and make friendships that will last a lifetime.

“I love the people that are in Avirah,” Ackman said. “It’s like a little family for me.”

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