Walking barefoot over the desert floor is no easy feat. Rocks and stones of all textures stab your sole, stick between toes, roll away when you most need their support. Each step requires a sort of calculation: first tentatively place foot, determine whether appropriate to proceed, then slowly apply weight until it’s clear that no jagged edges are seeking revenge. It’s a study in awareness – that of surroundings and that of sensations, a sort of forced hyper-recognition of how your body responds to its environment. And a reminder of how much we tend to shield ourselves from feeling its terrain.
Adama sits at the edge of Mitzpe Ramon (look for the sign that says “Spice Trade Route” in English), in the middle of the Negev Desert, about an hour and a half south of the city of Be’er Sheva, itself a two-hour bus ride (more or less) from Tel Aviv. About as far from the feel of the Mediterranean Coast as you can get.
I arrived at Adama, the home of the Nir Ben Gal and Liat Dror Dance Company and school, two days after the start of Passover for their annual three-day festival of dance classes, yoga sessions, performances, dance jams, and all other forms of movement. Within half an hour, I’m rolling on the floor, finding my center, reconnecting with my body, sitting back to back with a woman I’ve never met with a wild mane of curly hair that tickles my neck and, a minute later, carrying some young dude with a scraggly beard and flowy parachute pants on my shoulders as he breathes deeply and sighs. “Take responsibility for your own comfort,” says our teacher. I feel strangely exposed.
Have you ever laid on the desert floor as the sun starts to wave goodnight, as stones are placed on top of your chest, thighs, forehead, and hands, pinning you to the land, pressing you into earth? It’s liberating to feel so stuck.
Handmade hemp clothes for sail, organic soap, leather notebooks with Buddhist symbols embossed on the covers, plates of veggies, lentils, beets, and other vegan fare. Yeah, it’s that kind of place. Lots of dreads, lots of nose piercings – the standardized aesthetic of the non-conformists.
At night, after the performances concluded, as the winds whipped through the empty valleys of the Negev and the children were carried back to their tents, the DJ poured over us the sounds of Jamaica and India and Morocco and Mexico and we danced the world away, each protected by our own arbitrary and shifting borders. Two men next to me ignored the music altogether and engaged in a contact improvisation duel – one moment ferociously joining bodies and the next tossing each other away. Oh, the contradictions of human relationships.
And then, the following afternoon, I’m on another bus on an exodus back to Tel Aviv, sitting in the aisle because there are no more seats available – the soldiers have occupied them all. From the floor, I can’t see out of the window to watch the promised land pass me by. But I can still feel the bite of its teeth and the lick of its tongue on the naked surface of my soul.