Footloose in Jerusalem: Hear no evil, see no evil

The dancers of a Jerusalem-based company are organizing a protest against a policy designed to shield the eyes of passersby who would rather pretend they don’t exist

Three years ago, I worked for the Kolben Dance Company, whose base is in the Gerard Bechar Center in Jerusalem. Today and tomorrow, joined by a group of supporters, the dancers of this company will protest the enforcement of a closed curtain policy in the studio. Their plan is to strip down the curtains, which the director of the center ordered be closed during workings hours, and perform outside of their studio. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat spoke out, saying that he was never consulted on the matter of the closed curtains.

Gerard Bechar is in a neighborhood populated by both secular and religious people. The company is funded in part by the government. One wall of the studio faces the piazza of the center, letting in light and occasionally attracting a few spectators. Aside from wearing ratty sweat pants and coming into physical contact with one another, the dancers of this company do nothing provocative or unseemly. However, the pack of religious men who regularly patrol the Gerard Bechar Center have a bone to pick with the company.

When I worked there, these men used to bash on the windows if the curtains were even one foot away from being closed – meaning that a passerby could see our feet. They were bare feet usually, but feet nonetheless. It was terrifying. In the middle of a workday, we would all of a sudden hear booming noises, as if the glass was about to smash. It was bad enough that there was no natural light in the studio. There were also campaigns to destroy all posters of the company, as they presented women in immodest clothing. And several times during my stay in the troupe, the windows and outside walls were graffitied by locals. There was never any proof of who did it but the overall message was clear. Not welcome!

Knowing that the fact of our existence as dancers was somehow offensive to these people and that they had no problem to demonstrate that sentiment in various aggressive and violent ways was awful. Last time I checked, dancing was not a crime. Will Jerusalem allow its religious population to push the city back into the Footloose era?


UPDATE: This post initially termed the planned act of the Kolben Dance Company a “strike.” It has been corrected to describe it as a protest, which is more accurate.

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