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Dancing through the Maccabi Games

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For the first time, South Africa is sending a dance team to the JCC (Jewish Community Center) Maccabi Games in Fort Lauderdale, United States, in August. Team South Africa’s dancers are doing all they can to ensure they’re one step ahead of their opponents.

The five dancers, who will perform 16 dances at the Games, are Yeshiva College’s Livya Firer, Redhill’s Naomi Benjamin, and King David Linksfield’s Addy Joffe, Jordan Brill, and Leah Kerr-Phillips.

They will join more than 1 500 Jewish teenagers from across the globe competing in the tournament.

Team SA’s dance manager Megan Rosenberg says those who auditioned performed dances of their choice at her studio in Johannesburg in March. Independent judges ensured impartiality.

“These judges judge competitions and know the international standard,” Rosenberg says. “They chose six dancers on the merit of their performance. One dancer couldn’t come, so we’re going with a small team of five. They’re going to perform the dances they auditioned with as well as other dances they’ve used in other competitions in South Africa … We brought in choreographer Talia Kodesh to choreograph an Israeli dance, which has a little bit of African fusion, and is looking good. It’s the only dance the dancers are doing together. The rest are duets and solos.”

Brill, whose biggest dancing achievement was performing in two corporate productions featuring John Legend and Seal, says, “The team has worked hard to put together a gorgeous Israel dancing group. On top of that, I’ve worked hard for many weeks rehearsing my two solos and choreographing and rehearsing my two duos.”

This will be Rosenberg’s first Maccabiah, but she’s been to international competitions and taken dancers abroad to congresses and workshops.

She says she’s heard that the standard of the dancing will be “very high” at the Games. In fact, she has it on good authority that the standard will be the highest of all the sports at the tournament.

“The dancers apparently go all out, so it should be very interesting to see. I’ll be watching the entire competition, so we know what we’re in for in future as well. Please G-d, we’ll go every year after this.”

Benjamin says, “The atmosphere between us dancers is friendly and exciting heading up to Games. Some of us know each other from our dance studios, others from school.”

Rosenberg says the team will practise daily from 23 July, except for one weekend when they’re competing elsewhere in South Africa.

“They’ve already practised quite a bit together in my studio. I know they’ve also been practising at the King David Sandton school hall. My job at the Games is to see that the dances are set on stage. I choose choreographers here for the group work, but I work with them overseas. I’m there to look after them. I’m there as a teacher, doing what a teacher would do in a South African competition.”

Kerr-Phillips and Firer say Rosenberg has been an outstanding manager.

“Megan has gone out of her way to prepare us, to make sure we are ready to participate, to instil confidence in us, and to go for gold,” Firer says.

Kerr-Phillips says, “She’s organised incredible costumes and has made sure everyone is comfortable and happy with the costume design.”

Rosenberg says she can’t predict how the team will fare as she has “never seen what goes on there before, but our dancers are very good”.

Brill is hoping to do “very well as we have worked hard and have pushed ourselves”.

Firer says, “If I put in the required hard work – the practise, practise, practise instruction – and if I keep pushing myself, I hope to do very well. I keep reminding myself to keep my head held high and to ‘go big’.”

Firer is a former junior and senior Springbok rhythmic gymnast. She dances and trains at Jenny Rahme’s Dance Academy and with one of Rahme’s top teachers at Co-Exist Dance Academy. “At the Discorama Dance competition in May, I took home first place, with gold in both the group and formation sections. Being selected for, and achieving, two golds in this popular competition was very validating for me.”

The Games will be the first time Kerr-Phillips and Benjamin compete internationally, and they say being selected for the showpiece ranks as their biggest achievement in dancing so far.

Aside from competing, the Maccabi athletes will take part in community service, attend the opening and closing ceremonies, and enjoy bowling and other social activities.

Team SA will spend a day touring Fort Lauderdale with the Maccabi Great Britain delegation, and the girls will be staying with host families who are planning Shabbat experiences and other activities for them.

“I am so grateful for the opportunity to go to Fort Lauderdale,” Joffe says. “I hope to meet Jewish teens from all over the world and forge long lasting friendships.”

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