Lynn Berman grew up like many young girls, taking those obligatory ballet lessons throughout her childhood; she was one of those kids who performed in “The Nutcracker” every year in her hometown of Minneapolis.
But it wasn’t until five years ago that she finally discovered her true passion: Israeli dance.
Since then, Berman, who has lived in Pittsburgh since 1991, has been sharing her enthusiasm for the art form as an Israeli dance instructor.
“If you can walk, you can dance,” is Berman’s mantra.
Berman and Israeli dance veteran Cherie Maharam are doing what they can to ensure that Israeli dance is alive and well in the Steel City.
Currently, three distinct weekly opportunities to dance Israeli-style are available to the community: an all-female class on Monday nights at Hillel Academy of Pittsburgh; a Thursday night coed class at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill; and a long-standing coed Monday night class at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills, led by Myles Zuckerman. Both the JCC class and the Beth El class are preceded by a beginners’ session led by Berman.
“Israeli dancing is a win-win-win,” Berman said. “The music is good, the people are nice, and there’s something about communal dancing that builds community. Plus, it’s good exercise.”
In addition to weekly class instruction, Berman frequently leads Israeli dance sessions for children at area religious schools, including Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha, Temple Emanuel of South Hills and Temple David.
She has also led dancing at several synagogues at various sisterhood events as well as at some private functions, such as b’nai mitzvah.
But Berman may be best known for her annual gig at the communitywide Yom Ha’atzmaut celebrations sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. This year is no exception: Berman will be leading dancing to celebrate Israel Independence Day on Thursday evening, April 23, at the Squirrel Hill JCC. Dancers will be treated to the live music of Rick Recht and the Community Day School drum ensemble and also Cantor Henry Shapiro, spiritual leader of Parkway Jewish Center in Penn Hills, and other klezmer musicians.
Berman will reprise her role of Yom Ha’atzmaut dance leader on Sunday afternoon, April 26 at the South Hills JCC, accompanied by the klezmer group The Hot Matzohs.
While to the uninitiated, Israeli dance conjures up images of a prototypical hora, the field is “a living art,” Berman said, with new dances being constantly choreographed to go along with popular songs and the oldest dances dating back to the late 1940s, during the time of the creation of the State of Israel.
“There are more dances than anyone could learn,” she said.
Pittsburgh enthusiasts of Israeli dance frequently get together with dancers from Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, Berman said, or attend dance camps together in northeastern Pennsylvania or Rochester, N.Y.
“It’s great because people come from surrounding areas, and we all know the same dances,” Berman said.
It is that sense of community that draws her to the field.
In 2011, Berman attended a two-week dance course in Modi’in, Israel, just prior to the annual Karmiel Dance Festival. While about a quarter of the dances taught were new to Berman, she felt an immediate communal connection when dancing familiar dances with new friends in Israel.
“It was great to show up halfway around the world and see dances that I knew,” she said. “I couldn’t talk to people [in Hebrew], but there was something about that dance connection that was really very exciting.”
Maharam, who has been teaching Israeli dance since 1988, credits Berman for her untiring efforts to keep the art form flourishing in Pittsburgh.
“Lynn has revived and rejuvenated Israeli dance in Pittsburgh,” Maharam said. “She’s a tireless advocate for Israeli dancing because she enjoys it and is able to show everyone else how to enjoy it.”
For more information on Israeli dance in Pittsburgh, call 412-403-3488.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.