By Jenna Blair Soroka
(AJNews) – Spring is usually the time of the year where the Aviv Israeli Folk Dance Association (AIFDA) and Rikud Academy put on their annual dance festival, Festival Hatzafon. The dancers and instructors prepare all year to showcase their dance performances, get dressed up in costumes, and shine their brilliant smiles at family and friends. However, in March of 2020, Sari Uretsky, Artistic Director of AIFDA and owner of the Israeli dance school known as Rikud Academy, had to make quick decisions as news about COVID-19 was just starting to make waves in Canada and our community.
The AIFDA Executive made the tough decision to cancel the in-person event. This gave birth to their first ever virtual Festival Hatzafon with the support and professionalism of Reel Mensch Productions.
“We video-taped the dancers, added slide shows, and put together a wonderful show that parents, friends, and family could attend online,” Sari explained.
She also recalls the uncertainties the dance community faced during this time. How long would this go on for? How serious was the situation? What would dance look like going forward? As Sari, the AIFDA Executive, and her dancers started brainstorming, “we decided we needed to try to bring some cheer and dance into people’s lives who might be stuck inside or alone.”
Rehearsals moved outdoors on the Talmud Torah School property under current public health regulations at the time to put together a 20-minute show that could be performed outside of seniors’ homes and in parks. Given the circumstances, the turnout was great and there was much appreciation for the effort and creativity the dancers demonstrated.
As the year progressed and tighter regulations were put in place for gatherings, AIFDA’s performance groups (Aviv, Mayim, and Shemesh) switched to online classes for the first time in their 15 years of operating. Naturally, it came with a learning curve, and the dancers and instructors supported each other in this new environment.
During this time, they also raised funds and food donations for the Edmonton Food Bank – a collaborative event that the group does annually. This year’s event was in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Edmonton’s Good Deeds Day, where parents and dancers stepped up to support this important initiative. Natalie Soroka, AIFDA President, was thrilled the group was able to contribute to this successful community-wide event.
A couple months ago, past and present dancers participated in an online Israeli dance workshop led by choreographers from around the globe. Additionally, by sending in videos of past performances, AIFDA had the opportunity to join Festival Aviv in Mexico and Festival Harikud in Vancouver, two international Israeli dance festivals. “The pandemic has afforded us unique opportunities we would otherwise not have had,” Sari commented.
Although we must not overlook the many hardships that have arisen from this pandemic, it is evident that AIFDA has navigated the uncertainties through kindness, creativity, and community. There is much excitement for the dancers to get back into the studio together, but until then, the AIFDA Executive will continue to look for creative ways to be involved in the community in Edmonton and around the world.