Apr 13

Bari Simon

Bari Simon in the Old DaysSo let me tell you about Bari Simon. Most of you probably haven’t heard of her, but she was one of the most famous and controversial Israeli belly dancers in the 80ies. In the early 90ies Bari exchanged her bedlahs [a two-piece belly dance costume] for a head cover, bought up all of her dance videos and opened a bridal boutique in Bnei Brak [a city east of Tel Aviv, populated by orthodox Jews]. Needless to say since then Bari does not perform in public, however she does tour the country with seminars for women only. This January Bari was one of the guest instructors at the Oriental Dance festival in Eilat. She taught one workshop and gave one lecture followed by a short performance.

The workshop started late. In between fiddling with the mic and hissing away the men who tried to infiltrate the classroom Bari made us thank god for our beauty, health and talent to the sounds of Omar Faruk Tekbilek. Then she proceeded to dance on the stage while we were desperately trying to follow her. Naturally, Bari didn’t explain anything, because how would you break up her majestic poise and grandeur? Self-confidence and the sense of superiority are gained through years of hard work.

The next day the hall was packed even more, as we all gathered to hear Bari’s story. I’m not going to retell this jumble of self-flatter, preaching etc. etc. ad nauseum. Instead let me try to describe Bari’s dancing, because this is something I will remember for many years to come.

After a short change of dress Bari entered the hall to the opening sounds of Inta Omri under a canopy of a long turquoise veil. She briefly scanned the stage and then discarded the veil revealing one of the most stunning costumes I’ve ever seen. The long slinky dress emphasized all the curves, which was rather ironic, giving the sermons we had heard earlier regarding revealing dancer’s flesh. The dress had long draping skirt and sleeves and veils were attached to it from behind to create an effect of wings.

Bari’s dancing was spectacular. She was in total command of time and space. Her hip work was subtle and precise, her arms – exquisite, long and willowy, she was one with the music, she was divine… Bari reminded me of the Egyptian Golden Age dancers, only if I might say better.

Mar 31

Expression in Dance – two hours with Yardena Cohen

Yardena and the gong at the studio in Bat Galim, HaifaYesterday I drove to Haifa to attend Yardena’s workshop. Not knowing the city I got lost and ended up 10 minutes late. Luckily I wasn’t the last one to arrive, Israel switched back to daylight saving time and most of the group was late. Yardena greeted me warmly, asked for my name and invited me to come in.

The spacious studio was well lit by the afternoon sun and you could see the sea gleaming further down below Mt. Carmel. Yardena insisted that we take off the dance shoes and the socks, so we could stay connected to the ground. I decided to warm up while we were waiting for the rest of the group and other girls followed me. Yardena seemed very pleased, nodding in agreement until the girls in the back of the room started chattering. To my content Yardena made it clear that dance is the highest degree of concentration and that she would not tolerate any disturbance. In the meanwhile the rest of the girls had arrived and the class began.

Led by Yardena’s gong we started by connecting to the ground and reaching for the sky. Yardena spoke of the dance, its essence and therapeutic nature. She told us about her young students, how each and every one of them had a “Dance and Movement” notebook, where they documented their innermost dance experiences. She kept those notebooks safe from outsiders’ eyes, but we were in for a treat: Yardena asked me to read a few pages from one of the notebooks. The discolored pages treasured musings of a 10-year old girl. She imparted to us that at Yardena’s classes she pays no attention to the surroundings, she forgets it all and fuses with the music. She continued that since the dawn of time people had been striving to break off the earth with no success, and yet she had been flying free at Yardena’s studio.

The class proceeded to guided improvisation. Most of the topics were inspired by the Old Testament and the Passover and Yardena stressed self-presence and connection to one’s dance partners. We thanked the serpent for gifting us with the awareness of our bodies, we drew Moses out of the water, we lay crushed on the ground exhausted by the 40-years wandering in the desert and lastly we impersonated Hagar, expelled from her home by Sarah and Abraham. Contrary to the Biblical story Hagar was welcomed back to restore peace in our land.

From Yaron Margolin’s “The Twelve Pioneers of Dance in Israel”

Yardena is a “Sabra” (born in Israel, 1910), an original creator and the first to introduce the concepts of dance therapy in Israel.

Cohen employed an orchestra of Arab and Jewish musicians, playing music which told of love, sorrow & despair, and passed from one generation to another undocumented. She hired Israeli musician Boskowitz to document some of these ancient tunes. Inspired by what he heard, he wrote the “Semite Suite” (1945), which was later performed by the Israeli Philharmonic, and the Vienna Symphony, and wrote a Piano version of the score for Cohen. Cohen often worked with musicians who wrote original score for her.

Cohen brought her dances into open air spaces. She built tents and temporary structures, using the natural landscape as a backdrop. She invited some unconventional performers: shepherds with their herds, horse riders, and used all available nature’s elements in her harmonized choreography.

Cohen inspired a generation of dancers and creators, and encouraged them all to learn various dance techniques, Classical Ballet, Modern dance and more. She affected a new trend of Dance Therapy and was noted for her success in helping some holocaust survivors.

This entry was moved from my old website. I am pasting below the comments I got, since there is no other way to recreate them.

  • on 13 Mar 2008 at 12:28 am Gayle

    I am amazed to find Yardena Cohen mentioned on the Internet. I met her exactly 50 years ago in Haifa, March 1958. Few will understand this, but Haifa is the spiritual centre of all dance in the world today. I wish I could find out more about her dance, but cannot find anything specific on the Internet. Is she still living?

    At 74 I solo dance with a combination of classical Egyptian and Tahitian dance.

  • on 30 Mar 2008 at 10:54 am Sophie

    Dear Gayle!

    Thanks for sharing with me your precious experience.

    Yes, Yardena is living, she’s 97 years old and still teaching!

    One of my favorite dance books is Daniel Nagrin’s ‘How to Dance Forever’. Dancers like Yardena and yourself are a vivid illustration to this book, and I look upon you with admiration. You inspire me to keep dancing!


  • on 31 Mar 2010 at 9:14 pm shoshana Abraham-Koren

    I also used to be Yardenas pupil for many years, and am still thankful for indroducing me to the wonderful life of expressing myself by dance. Only now, at the age of 86 years, I really understand what Yardenas influence brought to light in myself

    and its importance, beside the pleasure of movement.

    Thank you, Yardena, I shall always think of you with admiration and love


  • on 27 Apr 2010 at 4:23 pm Osnat goldman

    I would love to attend a “Expression With Dance workshop!

    Can you please send me contact information?

    Thank You

  • on 17 Feb 2011 at 12:21 am Pinchas Cohen

    Just an update on Yardena: She is now an official Centenarian and was awarded the Israel Prize for her contributions