Dancing is my passion, my hobby. Dancing is an integral part of my life. It does more for me than any medicine, treatment or counselling.

It was 10 years ago that Rita, my neighbour in Netanya, invited me to go to a Rio Abierto session at the local community centre. My emotional state was low, a precious son had died and the health of my husband, Leon was rapidly deteriorating. “What’s that”? I asked. “Oh I am not sure” she replied “It’s Spanish for flowing river. It originated in Argentina. It’s fun though, come and try.”

“I think I am going to a Latin American dance session” I told Leon. He smiled, knowing that I needed an outlet. “Enjoy yourself.”

Sephie the dance instructor, changed my life. She greeted me warmly. Together with the other women present I joined hands in a circle and while our bodies gently swayed to the music, we became one. In a hushed voice Sephie shared with us the importance of the individual parts of our bodies. We danced facing each other to refrains and beats from classical and ethnic music to rock and roll and popular hits. We glided, twirled and jumped about like kids until we collapsed wearily on the studio floor.

One of the women wore a sheitl and the other, a hat throughout, but this did not inhibit their joy. “Relax now” said Sephie as she put on a romantic tune. “Imagine that you are dancing with someone you love.”

There was only one for me, at that moment. Anthony, my son who would never again dance with his mum. As my body moved with his and my imagination took over, I started to sob helplessly. Sephie lowered the lights. She came gently to me and took my hand, without saying a word.

From then on I have danced. Rio Abierto allowed me to express my emotions. Dancing unleashed that little girl in me, who had been buried for years. Dancing frees me, relaxes me, focuses me on my body, my feelings and my behaviour towards others. I dance every week with men and women of all ages who give me new energies, love and attention. Without a word they make me feel beautiful and worthy. We owe nothing to each other in our everyday existence and yet we give each other so much.

After coming to live in Tel Aviv, I went to a Rio Abierto gathering for the first time in months. The beautiful and sensitive leader was called Dina and the studio was dimly lit and cosy. My only experience until that point was of dancing in a women’s group. Amongst the dancers I spotted a young man who seemed to be with his girlfriend. Some of the other participants were friends with each other and there were others like me not really acquainted with the group.

As always with Rio, after spending two hours together, total strangers end up seemingly connected after the shared experience. As the music started we let our bodies decide our movements. Then Dina began leading us to determine and identify the energies which make up our very being. Thus we explored power and force, moving onto tenderness and sensitivity, and then exploring the mischievous child within.

The release which one senses after a while very often moves me to tears. I lose all my defences, inhibitions and freely express myself in movement and emotions, giving and receiving, enjoying to the full.

Soon large colourful cushions were passed around. Holding them we formed contact with whomever was closest. We moved our bodies whilst using the pillow as a bolster and as a defence against each other. We were connected or separated with unspoken mutual consent.

The sole young man in the group happened to be closest to me and I became his partner. I was not thinking about how or why, though I was suddenly involved in a sensuous encounter. Our bodies were touching, gyrating, mostly back to back. We leant on each other and somehow were connecting in a spiritual and yet earthy way, stirring within me an overwhelming desire for physical contact, with a member of the opposite sex. Resting my head on a comforting shoulder was almost like making love for me and yet not.

It was so wonderful and so I asked myself, would it have been so good with another of the same sex? He was not physically attractive to me, we barely exchanged a few words. I found the whole experience awesome yet disturbing and if I felt it maybe he did too?

The following day, I thought about it over and over and cried. I have no shame in admitting that this is what is lacking in my life. The psychologist whom I went to when Leon was so ill, told me “You are mourning the rest of your life.” I just don’t want to now, that he has gone. Now I am feeling more than ever the lack of male attention and desire and am patently aware of what I have been missing for so very long. The funny thing is, that had I met the young man in the street the following day, I would not have recognised him. For me Rio Abierto, is life, re-birth. Long may it last!

(Photograph of Zelda in blue top and tie; by Charisma Pixel)

Article by Author/s
Zelda Harris
Born in London, came to Israel in 1949. 1970 founding member of Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry (35s) in London. Returned to Israel 1978, social activist and public relations. Recognition by "Aliyah 100" for contribution to the state of Israel in the last 70 years.

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