By Andre A. Rodriguez
Each morning of the Folkmoot festival, the members of Shalom Israel Ashdod spend at least one hour getting warmed up for the day, working on staying in shape by doing ballet.
Then the group — including musicians — spends at least another hour practicing the dance programs it will present to audiences later in the day. The dance troupe arrived in Waynesville after two days in New York and rehearsed two full days prior to the beginning of the 26th annual Folkmoot festival.
Even though the dancers have practiced and performed the dances probably hundreds of times, the quest for perfection continues and might never be attained.
“Usually the group is working all the year, all the time,” said dancer Moshe Gino, who has been with the group for 15 years. “We don’t work only for a festival. This is working all year. We work three times a week for three hours at a time.
The constant rehearsing is necessary, he said, because while the traditions, dances and music stay the same, the dancers are always changing.
“We need to teach the new dancers and combine them with the old dancers to make the art good on the stage. It’s important that on the stage you look good to the audience to enjoy the Israeli folklore, Gino said.”
The dedication to the art displayed by Shalom Israel Ashdod is representative of the many international folk dance troupes who take part in Folkmoot festival. Many of the dancers and musicians are professionals or “semi-professionals,” as Gino refers to the members of his group.
But Gino, as well as his father, Hilik Gino, who leads the group’s rehearsals, are professionals. Hilik Gino studied dancing in New York at the Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance along with Alvin Ailey and French dancer Roland Petit, Moshe Gino said.
In addition to Shalom Israel Ashdod, Hilik Gino runs several other groups in and around the Israeli port city of Ashdod.
“They are different styles. Everything is very, very unique. Every group has their own performance and choreography,” said Moshe Gino, who will be traveling to Los Angeles after Folkmoot to teach another dance group his father worked with there.
Why all the work? For the performance.
“This is the most important thing for a dancer — to perform before an audience,” Gino said. “It’s hard to wake up in the morning, most of the dancers didn’t sleep very well, so to wake up in the morning and start to work you need a lot of power. But when you’re at a performance you get power from the audience. That’s usually what happens. The bigger the performance, you are excited more and you are giving more to the audience usually. It makes you more nervous and gives you more pressure and gives you more energy.”
Keeping performers happy
Working behind the scenes at the Folkmoot Friendship Center, the kitchen staff also does its part to keep the Folkmoot performers energized by serving up about 1,700 meals a day, which include lots of fruits, vegetables, beans and rice, and macaroni and cheese, said morning shift kitchen manager Lake Williams.
“They love the American macaroni and cheese,” she said.
The kitchen staff prepares mostly traditional American foods but also takes into account dietary needs of the visiting groups, including providing vegetarian meals and ensuring dishes do not contain pork.
The healthy, hardy meals are appreciated by the dancers and go a long way toward ensuring the dancers enjoy their Folkmoot experience.
“Look, these dancers, they paid a lot of money to come to the festival, and if they don’t enjoy themselves they don’t have any reason to come next year,” Gino said. “So what happens inside the Folkmoot Center is very important to the festival, because without this any festival cannot exist.”
Shalom Israel Ashdod seems to really enjoy the Folkmoot experience. This year marks the group’s fourth visit to North Carolina’s Official International Festival. The group also performed at Folkmoot in 1995, 1998 and 2001.
“This is an amazing place,” said Gino, who was with the group for each visit.
The amount of interaction that goes on between the groups at Folkmoot also helps the group members enjoy themselves and want to keep coming back.
“You need all the socialization,” Gino said. “It’s an amazing thing to meet other people from other cultures,” especially when meeting groups with similar backgrounds and shared stories.
“Sometimes when we go to a festival there is an Arab country like Egypt or Armenia, countries that don’t have very good relationships with Israel, but they were our best friends because the Arab nation is very similar to Israel.
“There are many people in Israel who came from Arab nations,” such as Morocco, as did Gino’s father.
“So there is the same music, same subjects to talk about, to enjoy,” Gino said. “A lot of Israeli people speak Arabic.
“When you meet other cultures I think it’s changing,” he said. “You look at other points of view. It’s changing because you see that everybody is similar. All the people are very similar. All the people want to have fun, to enjoy meeting other people, to make connections. It’s the same in every culture, in every state, in every human being. You understand how simple it is and how other people make it not simple.”
The work that goes into Folkmoot performances is hard, Gino said, but “the world is very easy.”