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And step and pivot: Performing artists get business help amid pandemic

Creative Independence, a nonprofit run by dance professionals, gives entrepreneurial advice on how to thrive despite closed studios and theaters

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Beersheba dance studio owner and community organizer Melina Gefterman (center, with short white hair), who has leaned on the organizational help and emotional support of nonprofit organization Creative Independence during the coronavirus (Courtesy Melina Gefterman)
Beersheba dance studio owner and community organizer Melina Gefterman (center, with short white hair), who has leaned on the organizational help and emotional support of nonprofit organization Creative Independence during the coronavirus (Courtesy Melina Gefterman)

In the 25 years since Marina Gefterman established her Beersheba dance studio, Top Dance, she has shepherded young, mostly Russian immigrants through all kinds of uncertain times in this desert-bound city.

The coronavirus pandemic, however, has unnerved her.

Gefterman, a trained community worker, established her studio as a kind of support group, a way of keeping her young wards busy and occupied.

Besides keeping her business running in the midst of a pandemic, Gefterman knew she needed to remain emotionally stable, in order to model strength for her students and instructors.

“This is far more than just a business for me,” said Gefterman. “My daughters learned dance here, and now my granddaughter does. I’ve taught generations of women.”

Melina Gefterman, center, with some of her dance studio students, during the coronavirus (Courtesy Melina Gefterman)

Gefterman turned to Zachi Cohen for help, whom she had met through a professional Zoom class.

Cohen, a professional dancer, choreographer and producer, established the nonprofit organization Creative Independence in the midst of the coronavirus, along with Yair Vardi, the founder and long-time director of the Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater, and two other cultural entrepreneurs from the fields of theater and movement.

They wanted to help and teach creative types how to run their businesses more successfully.

“We’re giving them direction,” said Cohen. “It’s not building something from scratch; it’s working with what they have.”

Gefterman, like others in her profession, is an arts professional who has had to pivot over the last nine months. It’s a reality for many professionals in theater, music and dance, as they seek ways to continue performing and earning a living.

Zachi Cohen, dancer, choreographer and producer, who is offering his business skills to fellow performing artists who are struggling during the pandemic (Courtesy Zachi Cohen)

“As a studio owner, you need to give strength and energy to your teachers and students, and I was lacking energy to deal with everything,” said Gefterman. “I would say, ‘I just have to speak to Zachi, to hear that it’ll be okay, to pour it all out to him, and for him to tell me, ‘Okay, now back to work.'”

Creative Independence is a nonprofit organization that charges a basic fee for its consulting services and works with about ten individuals at a time, said Cohen. They’ve worked with studios that had been operating for years but required a new direction, performing artists who earn money but not enough to support themselves during the pandemic, and other performers who needed to find a way to earn a living.

“Everyone’s trying to figure this out,” said Vardi, who left Suzanne Dellal before the coronavirus, after 31 years at its helm. “We have to dig down and see what we can do. Things may return to what they were, or they may not.”

Dance teacher Ruth Segalis knew Cohen from when they were dancers in the annual Acre Festival, and reached out for his help on a project dealing with creative women.

“Zachi has the business and rational side that I lack,” said Segalis, who has continued teaching on Zoom and returned to in-person classes in November, when the second national lockdown was easing.

Dancer Ruth Segalis found that she needed help in order to successfully pivot during the coronavirus (Courtesy Ruth Segalis)

Many performing artists and teachers don’t know how to build a business, said Vardi, and often don’t succeed in turning ideas into businesses. The coronavirus made that process even more difficult.

“We’re trying to help them do that,” he said. “Everything keeps on changing during this period, but it can also be a great period for pivoting and trying something new.”

Shaked Sabag Fine, a hip-hop dance teacher in the northern community of Beit Hillel, felt like time stopped when her studio had to close because of the coronavirus. Her hip-hop classes for kids from nearby kibbutz communities had been taking off, and Sabag Fine felt elated to work in the field that she loved.

She opened a channel on social media platform TikTok and began growing her audience with her dance performances, after working with Cohen and Vardi.

לקחתי חלק ביצירות עם רקדנים, וכשמגיע הרגע שלך זה תמיד מפחיד וחשוף אך מרגש ❤- צורות -משתפת פרומו קצר מיצירה שלי עם Yuval Razon המציג שילוב בין עולם הTutting (עבודת ידיים) למודרני, עם מוזיקה מקורית שלי ????זכרונות של מדבר – פסלים חיים – שרטוטים ונחשים תודה לך יובל על התמסרות מוחלטת ????תודה ל Roman Galperin שליווה אותי בתהליך המוזיקלי????תודה ל זיגוטה – מחול תנועה ופרפורמנס מרכז קלור למוסיקה ולמחול ולכל המורים שליוו אותי בתהליך המרתק הזה ????Zachi Cohen Ferry Stefan Ruth Segalis צילום : Itzik Amar עריכה : Ashrina Chenמוזיקה : שקד סבג פיין

Posted by ‎שקד סבג פיין‎ on Wednesday, November 18, 2020

“I wanted to be as fruitful as possible,” said Sabag Fine, who quickly moved from dancing on TikTok to composing her own music for the dance pieces and then publishing videos of those works.

“I say all the time that so much depends on the person,” said Vardi, “their desire to pivot, their sense of entrepreneurship.”

Former Suzanne Dellal director Yair Vardi, who is now part of a nonprofit organization that aims to help performing artists pivot and run their businesses during the pandemic (Courtesy Yair Vardi)

The work with Cohen and Vardi has made all the difference for Gefterman, who benefited from all of Cohen’s “tips” about opening workshops in the summer and creating more professional performances for her amateur dancers.

“We’re doing everything outdoors now,” said Gefterman, who was fined NIS 5,000 for holding classes inside the studio, at a time when she thought she was allowed to have a certain number of people inside. “It was a punishing strike, on top of everything else. That’s why it helps to have support from someone who I know understands exactly what we’re going through.”

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