Pictured above: BACK: George, Heather, former Idyllwild Arts Visual Arts Chair Gerald Clarke, Past Chair of Idyllwild…
Pictured above: Dance Chair Ellen Rosa-Taylor’s son, Jack, with former Academy dancers Carlos Martinez and Blake Lanesskog.
Boys who want to pursue dance often face resistance. The resistance may have been exaggerated in Hai Cohen’s case.
“My parents always questioned why I practiced dance for so many hours,” says the Israeli-born dance instructor.
Hai teaches at Idyllwild Arts Academy, the August-to-May art school for teenagers, as well as in the art summer camp, the Idyllwild Arts Summer Program.
“They’re from Morocco and Tunisia,” he continues. “They brought some very conservative attitudes to Israel. My dancing caused years of struggle with them.”
A broad smile illuminates his face.
“But now there’ve been even more years of pride in me, since they’ve been able to watch me perform. The joy of dancing and of watching other people dance is such a simple, immediate thing, after all. There’s athleticism and physicality, like in any sport, there’s the feeling of music throughout your whole body. . . The question shouldn’t be, Why would a boy dance? The question should be, Why would a boy not dance?!”
The Path into Dance
Love of athletics had something to do with Hai’s path into dance, as a boy in Be’er Sheva, the largest city in the Negev desert.
“I was eleven and I’d played tennis for six years. But I had friends who were having fun at an Israeli folklore company, so I decided to go along. I did Israeli folk dancing for a few years before I ever had any ballet training. We danced in folklore festivals, wearing traditional costumes, in Mexico, Taiwan, Ecuador, Panama. . .”
Folk dancing brought joy to Hai. And it brought additional benefits that every other young person—boy or girl—who has danced will know about.
“You develop self-confidence by standing up and performing in front of people,” he says. “You develop skill in collaboration. You develop habits of discipline that help you do better in school—and in anything else! You find a way to express your emotions, and we know it’s unhealthy to keep them bottled up.”
“To be fair to my parents, part of their concern was that they didn’t consider dance to be a real profession. Yet there are many professional dancers! The professional dance world is highly competitive, of course, but less so for boys than for girls. In fact, there are many jobs available to male dancers, who are always more in demand than female dancers. And as a professional dancer you get to travel all over the world.”
Hai looks through the window at the pine and cedar trees on the sloping lawn in front of the Idyllwild Arts Admission building.
“Look where I am now: dance has taken me thousands of miles from my home in Israel.”
He scrolls through his iPhone in search of a recent e-mail.
“Or look where Carlos Martinez is now.”
He displays a picture of Carlos, who graduated from Idyllwild Arts Academy in 2018.
“Carlos is from Jalisco, in Mexico. He was here for four years and now he’s studying dance at George Mason University, in Virginia. And he’ll go all over the world.”
“You see what the George Mason Dance Chair wrote to me about him? ‘Please send me more like Carlos!'”
Wherever Carlos Martinez’ dance career might take him, Hai’s career has taken him from Bat Dor School of Dance and then Kamea Dance Company, both in Be’er Sheva, to Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, in Galilee, to BODYTRAFFIC, in Los Angeles.
He has taught for Idyllwild Arts since 2012. His choreographing credits include creating pieces performed for the Youth America Grand Prix competition by many of Carlos’ predecessors at the Academy, including Ricardo Urbina Reyes (Class of 2015) and Clara Stark (Class of 2016).
Reviving the Passion
“I’m thirty-five, so I’m slowly approaching that point in a dancer’s life when you have to admit that your body simply can’t do what it used to do. But I keep reviving my passion for dance through teaching and choreographing. I feel honored to transfer my knowledge and experience to my students, and as a choreographer I can still create that profound connection with the audience when it feels like everybody is one person.”
Under its Chair, Ellen Rosa-Taylor, the Academy’s Dance Department has for several years offered the chance to experience that connection to young people who don’t attend the Academy. The Children’s Dance Program, founded in 2015, is one of a number of Idyllwild Arts programs offering art classes for children. Academy students teach Children’s Dance Program classes to children as young as three or four, living in the town of Idyllwild.
Hai Cohen has done very well as a dancer and choreographer after discovering the dance world at age eleven. But why not start even younger?