Avirah rises above the pandemic’s challenges

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By Angel Gingras
@GingrasAngel
For Mitzpeh

Avirah practices social distancing at their outdoor rehearsals. Photo courtesy of Deborah Brown.

Avirah, the Israeli Dance Company at this university, is dancing to the beat of a new rhythm this semester: COVID-19 restrictions.

Since being revived in 2013, Avirah is one of the university’s most prominent performance groups that stages diverse dances both on and off campus. It is currently headed by this year’s artistic director, Aliza Mintz. 

The group strives to bring Israeli dance culture to this university through original choreography and traditional Harkada dances, which they perform at the Israeli Dance Festival each year. Last spring, the COVID-19 pandemic postponed many of their performances and left much of this semester’s plans up in the air.

The recent auditions took place in two parts, one virtual and one in-person on Sept. 23, where both the original and traditional choreography was taught. Elaine Berger, a freshman Jewish studies and business management major, was the only undergraduate to audition and make it as the team’s eighth member of this season.

“I found out accidentally that UMD had an Israeli dance group, and immediately I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” said Berger. “Being the only newbie this year, I felt welcomed with open arms during auditions.”

Avirah’s rehearsals for the fall semester have taken a different turn to accommodate COVID-19 campus guidelines. The team currently practices two days a week in a parking lot to maintain social distancing but is looking for an indoor space to rent during the winter months. 

Members are always required to wear masks and are told to stay home if they feel sick or have been exposed to the virus.

The typical performance schedule for Avirah consists of two to three small performances in the fall semester and larger performances in the spring semester, including an end-of-year showcase where they perform all their choreography from the year. 

Last season, the switch to online learning caused the showcase to go virtual in June and the annual Israeli Dance Festival was canceled. Currently, members are preparing for their next performance by working on one set of choreography, despite not knowing when they will be able to take to the stage again.

Junior supply chain management and operations management business analytics major Deborah Brown is president of Avirah. She’s also a copy editor for Mitzpeh. When asked about how the team has been handling the changes that have taken place due to COVID-19, she explained how family-like values and diversity are important aspects of the Avirah community.

“It’s been very hard to adjust with COVID,” said Brown. “But, the family doesn’t stop… even if we aren’t physically close.”

In addition to its biweekly rehearsals, the group hosts events called Internal Relations (IR), where members get together to socialize and build community with their peers. The events range from family dinners to game night, and currently, all IR events are being held virtually once a month.

“I am most excited to relearn something I used to love and form a community while that happens,” said Berger, who hasn’t danced since middle school. “It’s another shared experience besides going to services together.”

More information about Avirah can be found online or on their Facebook page.