22 July 2010

Gaga for the People!

At basketball camp in the mid-1970s, we used to do a defensive workout called "footfire," in which we were forced to bend our knees and balance ourselves on the balls of our feet and then quickly move our feet from right to left and left to right as if the ground beneath them was on fire.  Footfire.  The coach would move up and down the line of young kids, all aspiring ballplayers, and scream directions at us over and over again in order to hammer home the point that basketball was won on defense as much as offense and that the best defensive teams (therefore the *best* teams) could not be stopped if they had "footfire."  I ate it up and for the rest of my playing days always prided myself on the ability to play tight defense.  During summers at camp, footfire was practiced on the heat of a blacktop, temperatures always on the rise, sun beating down on our backs, a New Hampshire forest standing off in the distance.  Back at home, in the gym, footfire took on the staccato beats of muffled beating drums, our feet beat into a soft wooden floor, the grid on which games were won or lost.

The forgiving wood was the thing.  It evoked a response from one's body and while it's true that there was always something to one's "home court," it was the wood that *anywhere* that spoke to you.

It's my last day in Tel Aviv and so I started it going over to the Suzanne Dellal Center for one of Ohad Naharin's "Gaga" classes with my friend Saar Harari, who has his own dance company -- LeeSaar --with his wife Lee. Saar is a disciple of Ohad's and is bringing some of the mission of Gaga to Brooklyn, this past year using the wooden floors of the CBE Social Hall and Ballroom as rehearsal space for his company.  Walking down Rothschild Street early this morning, watching people fill up the cafes or head off to work, contorting their bodies this way and that to squeeze in and out of cars and cabs, balance on bikes or cafe stools, I thought about the wooden floors of my youth (basketball); the wooden floors of my Shul (bar/bat mitzvahs, weddings & celebrations -- Simchat Torah, hello?!  who hasn't danced on Simchat Torah? -- and an indoor playground for kids).  Then I turned my reticent attention to the wooden floors at the Batsheva Dance Company where I'd attend, for the first time in my life, a dance class.  A. Dance. Class. 

Well, Rahm Emanuel danced, I told myself.  And if the "Undersecretary for Go Fuck Yourself" can do it, so can I.  The irony of dancing *Gaga* (no relation to you-know-who) would not be lost on me either given the command performance my wife and kids decreed with each screening of Glee.  Dance is a language like any other and I was interested in learning a new body language in Hebrew, or so I tell myself sitting and writing this in Cafe Ginzburg on Ahad Ha'am Street.  I would be participating in a 21st century expression of Cultural Zionism.  Art, language, the body.  Ginzburg's neighbor in the cemetery on Trumpeldor Street, Max Nordau, would be proud.  The Dalal Center is on the old campus of one of the Zionist movement's early Alliance Schools, which proudly employed a pedagogy sympathetic to Nordau's "muskel-Judenthum."

For sixty solid minutes -- and sixty shekels -- I used every muscle in my body.  I imagined myself with only flesh, then only bones.  I imagined myself taking off my skin and putting it back on.  I rolled on a floor in flames and I ran around a room on a wooden floor that was glacially cold.  I leaped, heaved, lunged, banged, snapped and cracked--from the very ends of my fingers to the ends of my toes and, as the saying goes, everywhere in-between.  My two favorite exercises entailed imagining removing all weight from my back (much harder than you think) and then hammering nails into the floor followed by strenuously removing them--with my feet.  And at the end of the hour I was soaking wet with sweat and deeply satisfied.  Footfire.

Ohad Naharin divides up his Gaga methodology in two ways--Gaga for Dancers and Gaga for the People--and when Saar and I met yesterday to talk about the idea of bringing Gaga for the People to Brooklyn, he said, "Come:  It'll change your day."  I liked that he didn't say "change your life" or "change you forever" or employ that other overused term "transform you."  Just change your day, which it has.

I've been running since 1980 and that thirty year workout (better than basketball for my back, alas) remains primarily one for the legs and heart.  This was something entirely different, though equally energizing and challenging, which I kind of always knew intuitively but was basically afraid to try.  I think it would be hugely popular in Brooklyn, I really do.  Though I won't stop running, I will Gaga again.

Stay tuned.  Gaga for the People!

About Gaga

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DP Greenberg said...

At the Jewish social work camp I attended, we played an Israeli game called "gaga," kind of a combination of kickball and dodge ball. [Incidentally, Jewish camping may be the singular powerful tool in the kit bag of Jewish community building, blah, blah, blah, blah ...). I wonder if this gaga has anything to do with the game I knew and loved. By the way, for the sake of promoting domestic tranquility, I agreed to a series of ballroom dancing classes a few years back. If you want to maintain the popularity of your rabbinate with roughly half your congregation (and the greater Jewish community in Brooklyn, blah ...), don't think about bringing any dance classes our way.

LB said...

Kol HaKavod! The spread of Naharin's Gaga is the most exciting development in dance in a long time.

Andy Bachman said...

Thanks LB. Greenberg--why do you think they call it the Ballroom?