Welcome to Israeli Folk Dance otherwise know as Rikudei Am (Dance of the People).
With the availability of videos (mostly on YouTube) learning the basics is much easier than it was even a decade ago.
If you are brand new to Rikudei Am, learning a few terms will make you life much easier. There is a really basic, quick demonstration of the basic steps here.
And there are a series of very clear dance videos from Key of David International which go over each step in detail.
Once you have learned the basic steps, you will want to learn some easy dances. This video from Boaz Cohen has an amazing compendium of beginner dances.
Another really fantastic set of videos comes from our friend Peter Smolesh in Montreal.
Nigun Atiq, Lo Ahavti Dai, Tzadik Katamar, Hora Medura ,Hora Nikoda, Lech Lamidbar, Sulam Yaakov, Erev Ba
Neshika Turkit, Hameantezet, Debka Lahat
Ma Navu, Eretz Eretz, Ba La
Other than dancing, familiarizing yourself with the music is best way to help yourself learn. Many markidim (session leaders) will prepare a CD of the dances they play, ask them if you can buy one. Also, please check out the music links on our links page. Listen to the music whilst driving, exercising, doing chores, etc. The more comfortable you are with the flow of the music, the easier dancing will be. Also, it helps to have some basic feel for the language. Some basic vocabulary words are here. This will help you learn the names of the dances that you like so that you can request them, because the names will become meaningful.
All that aside, the way to learn to dance is by dancing. Go to as many harkadot (dance sessions) as you can. Each harkada (dance session) has something different to teach you. Sadly, some markidim will try to convince you not to attend other harkadot, ignore them and dance where you will. You shouldn’t dance just the dances you have been explicitly taught; rather learn by copying others. Start outside the circle until you feel you can join in without impeding the flow of the circle and follow along. Because experienced dancers don’t remember the steps with their minds, but rather muscle memory, it is important not to move into the circle until you can dance without stopping. The more you dance, the more you will build your muscle memory. Don’t worry about mistakes, everyone makes mistakes, that is how you learn. Just have fun. If you get overwhelmed, stop, chat a bit, and then join back in.
In most harkadot, as the evening progresses, the dances will get more complicated. The more experienced dancers want more challenging dances and often come later to avoid the easy dances. So when you are first learning, it is important to come when the session starts. But please, stay when the dances get better, even if you can’t do them yet. You will get familiar with them just by watching for a while, and then copying from outside the circle.
If you were wondering about proper behavior at dance session, Ken Avner wrote a great etiquette guide available here.
If you bring children with you, please be mindful of what they are doing. They are welcome to join the circle, if they are able. But, it is unfair to others to have a child running amok; we had a dancer hurt by tripping over an uncontrolled toddler. So, be considerate, and manage any children you bring.