Meet the Dance World's Most Surprising Mash-Up: Rabbis who Double as Professional Contemporary Dancers

Mash-ups aren't uncommon in the dance world: Performers of varying styles have been known to share the stage, from ballerina Tiler Peck and famed clown Bill Irwin to Michelle Dorrance, who's mixed tappers and break-dancers. Likewise, collaborations between choreographers and artists from seemingly mismatched disciplines have produced magical creations, such as Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream, featuring Mark Ryden's whimsical and even grotesque designs and costumes.

But the Israeli troupe Ka'et Contemporary Dance Ensemble has found success in one of the most unlikely partnerships: Secular contemporary choreographer Ronen Itzhaki creates movement for a group of rabbis and religiously observant men.


The International Fine Art Fund, a nonprofit organization that shines a light on artists worldwide, recently visited Ka'et in rehearsals in Israel. This five-minute documentary is a testament to Itzhaki's unconventional work, and the power of movement to unite and nourish across religious divides.

In the video, Itzhaki explains how the group was born: When he was a young choreographer in Tel Aviv, a group of religious men invited him to work with them. Despite not knowing much about Judaism, except from popular culture, he accepted. "They paid me, and I had to make my living," he says. Itzhaki goes on to admit that it only took 10 to 15 minutes for him to fall in love with them.

"Usually, people think in boxes," he says, "like 'I am a religious man' or 'I am a choreographer. I live in Tel Aviv.' And in Israel there is very clear boxes...So, when I met these people, I met people who live out of the box and think out of the box. I've been touched by this."

While an abstract art form may seem at odds with the disciplined life of a rabbi, Itzhaki says Ka'et has allowed the men to respectfully explore their boundaries. "Because the dancers are very religious, and because they love their Jewish-ness...they can play with it," he says.

The troupe also takes contemporary dance into the Orthodox community. The company members are not just deeply religious men who want to memorize dance moves, but artists whose performances are full of emotion, humanity and arresting beauty.

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TaraMarie Perri in tree pose at Storm King Art Center. Photo by Sophie Kuller, Courtesy Perri

5 Self-Soothing Exercises You Can Do to Calm Your Anxiety

Physical stillness can be one of the hardest things to master in dance. But stillness in the bigger sense—like when your career and life are on hold—goes against every dancers' natural instincts.

"Dancers are less comfortable with stillness and change than most," says TaraMarie Perri, founder and director of Perri Institute for Mind and Body and Mind Body Dancer. "Through daily discipline, we are trained to move through space and are attracted to forward momentum. Simply put, dancers are far more comfortable when they have a sense of control over the movements and when life is 'in action.' "

To regain that sense of control, and soothe some of the anxiety most of us are feeling right now, it helps to do what we know best: Get back into our bodies. Certain movements and shapes can help ground us, calm our nervous system and bring us into the present.

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