Jonathan Kis-Lev, 2013
Yehonatan (Yoni) Kislov (Hebrew: יהונתן כיס-לב)
12 September 1985
Mishmar Ayalon, Israel
|Alma mater||Open University of Israel|
Jonathan Kis-Lev (born 1985) is a Canadian-Israeli choreographer, peace activist, artist and television personality. He is known as the founder of Unidance. Unidance combines dance, coordination, and resistance training with popular music for a full-body workout. His paintings, both in the naïve art style as well as street art, have been displayed in galleries in the United States, Canada and Europe. He often uses his television platforms and his art for peace activities involving joint Jewish and Arab causes.
Kis-Lev created Unidance in 2002 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, as a student at Lester B. Pearson College UWC. Having began to study dance four years earlier, Kis-Lev was trying to create a fun form of dance that can be easily teachable to others. At the time the dance was called "Sweat-Dance" due to the high intensity and perspiration involved.
Realizing fellow students were attending for fun rather than wishing to become highly proficient in dance, Kis-Lev began to hold "just for fun" classes that began with a jazz warmup. Together, the group of students performed choreographies such as All That Jazz and America (West Side Story song) in the Max Bell Hall during college performances.
Upon returning to Israel, Kis-Lev was wishing to find a place in which he could both dance, and to which he could bring none-dancers friends. In 2017, being frustrated from being unable to find places to dance in Israel, Kis-Lev began further developing the dance he had taught at Pearson college.
Unidance drew its formation inspiration from Folk dance, particularly Line Dance. The steps of Unidance were either inspired from Jazz Dance, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation, and other popular forms of dance (see below).
Subsequently, Kis-Lev began teaching Unidance at public venues such as Haifa beach promenade and Oranim College. Later, Kis-Lev partnered with his sister, Elinoy Kislov, to launch an official class of the new method in Tel Aviv, at Naim Studio on South Tel Aviv. The company expanded into teachers' instruction and by 2019 were offering online certification programs for Unidance Instructors.
The word "Unidance" is a neologism that was expressly created as a brand name. The original name was "Sweatdance", and later "Syxe". Kis-Lev was hoping to find a name that will be self-explanatory. The importance of a uniform dance for each popular song was a key to the early success of Unidance, and this was to be reflected in the new name. Wishing to come up with a name that will hint of the unifying aspects of the method, as well as of the fact that each song had its own pre-choreographed choreography, the word unidance was coined.
The name was therefore invented to reflect both the universality of the dance, as well as its fixed and uniform choreography for each specific song. The name Unidance is a combination of universe, uniform and dance.
Unidance, differing from most dance classes, does not focus on teaching a dance choreography step by step. The dance is copied by the participants watching the instructor on the spot, much like in aerobic or Zumba fitness class. Unidance teachers must signal to the participants of the next move. There are over 30 such signals, signifying such instructions as "chasse", "box-step", "jete", etc. The instructor must notify the group of the coming step two-seconds in advance.
Unidance classes are typically about an hour long and are taught by instructors licensed by Unidance International, LLC. The music comes mostly from pop music, and features songs by Madonna, Bruno Mars, Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, Rihanna, Beyoncé, etc.
To practice as a Unidance teacher, instructors must be registered as Unidance Certified Teachers (UCT) and renew their membership annually. As part of the membership, instructors are given access to monthly choreographies and community support for their personal Unidance classes.
Unidance instructors are taught to incorporate philosophy from Duncan Dance styles, Tai Chi, and the bodymind healing arts of Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Technique and Yoga. Unidance incorporates elements from New Age, body positivity and Fat acceptance movement philosophy, claiming that each body type is perfect, and that each participant's natural dance style is unique and should not be modified. As part of freeing participants to dance in their own style, participants are encouraged to add their own dance moves, sing along, high-five each other, and close their eyes when wishing to. Unidance classes are most often taught with dim-lights, to enable the participants the feeling that they are not being watched or seen by others.
According to Unidance teachers, each class is designed to feel like a party rather than a formal dance class. Participants are encouraged to dance in freestyle dance, and to "have fun" rather than try and master the steps. Unlike most dance classes and aerobic classes, Unidance classes are danced with the participants' back to the mirror, without them able to see their own reflection. This, according to Unidance instructors, enables participants to stop comparing themselves to others.
Kis-Lev was born to Zionist parents who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. According to him, he had grown to fear and hate Arabs. It was only when he attended an art workshop for peace with Arab children at the age of 11, that he had begun to question his upbringing. He then joined the Jewish-Arab youth movement Sadaka Reut, as well as began learning Arabic. At the age of 16 he was selected by the Israeli committee of the United World Colleges as the Israeli Young Ambassador to the Pearson College UWC in Canada, in order to live and study alongside young students from around the world, including Palestinian and Arab students, as part of the movement's mission to serve as a "force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace".
Upon completing his studies in Canada, Kis-Lev returned to Israel to serve in the Israeli Defense Forces, and fought to be stationed at a unit that he considered as promoting peace rather than war and occupation. Following his struggle he was then stationed at the headquarters of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, where he was in charge of coordination of medicines into the Gaza strip, enabling Palestinian patients to visit Israeli hospitals, and assisting joint Arab-Israel activities, working alongside organizations such as UNRWA and Doctors Without Borders.
Kis-Lev believes in the power of education and the arts in promoting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. He states that encouraging encounters designed at eliminating mutual fear between the two sides need have no relation to political stances. Kis-Lev thinks of himself as a zionist and sees no contradiction between that and his peace activism. Beginning in 2008 Kis-Lev began writing and lecturing about the possibilities for peace in the Middle East, stressing the importance of education for peace as a solution to the conflict.
In efforts to use the arts as a bridge between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Kis-Lev joined fellow Palestinian and Israeli artists in 2011. Led by the Bereaved Families for Peace. As part of the project the group visited together the Palestinian depopulated village Lifta and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. The initiative won extensive media coverage for being a unique cooperation of artists from both sides of the conflict, meeting for mutual understanding and peace.
In 2014, due to the rising violence in the Silent Intifada, Kis-Lev joined hands with Palestinian activist Riman Barakat, to set up meetings in Jerusalem encouraging dialogue. The project was called the Hallelujah Dialogue Project, and took place even in face of terrorism in Jerusalem, in days when similar activities ceased to operate.
Kis-Lev showed interest in the visual arts from an early age. He began studying painting with a private teacher at the age of five, He earned the International Baccalaureate Diploma with a major in visual arts.
In 2007 he had his first solo exhibition in Tel Aviv entitled Beginnings: Neve Zedek and Jaffa. Visited by many, including Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, the exhibition marked his debut in the Israeli art world. In the years following the artist developed several techniques that were meant to enable him to "forget" all that he was taught about proper painting from an early age, and paint "like a child again". He began drawing some paintings with his weak left hand rather than his strong right, and drew some paintings when the canvas was placed upside down, so that elements such as the sky were placed on the bottom. According to the artist, these techniques helped him gain self-confidence in his intuition and paint more freely. The style Kis-Lev developed was referred to as naïve, even though some art critics have referred to the works as pseudo-naïve due to the self-conscious approach taken by the artist.
Simultaneously, beginning in his early twenties, Kis-Lev began spraying political catchphrases and slogans advocating for peace, bridging the gap between the poor and the rich, as well as granting proper human rights to Israel's foreign workers from Africa. His works developed slowly into ones with more visual nature, such as depicting Israeli Srulik and Palestinian Handala embracing one another, a work which received much criticism. The work was considered "An optimistic piece" according to Forward Magazine.
One of Kis-Lev's most iconic street art works is the "27 Club", known as one of Israel's must-see street artworks. The work depicts, from left to right, Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and an unknown figure. Some speculate it is "believed to be the artist, Jonathan Kis-Lev." That part of the painting was covered by pink paint, and "there is some argument as to whether or not the pink paint over Kis-Lev’s face was done by Kis-Lev himself or another artist. One rumor is that Kis-Lev was so disappointed in all that he hadn’t accomplished by the age of 27, that he included paint to cover his face." The painting was reportedly made with the help of a crane and took two days to complete.
The artist frequently donates to and collaborates with non-profit organizations to raise money for social causes, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters Israel, Giborim Ktanim – Small Heroes, </ref> Esra – Volunteering Together For the Community, </ref> and others. His art has become part of major art collections, including the collection of Bank Leumi, one of Israel's largest banks.
Kis-Lev first appeared on TV at the age of nine, in Israel's channel 1 (Israel) in a talent show, and appeared as a child actor in such programs as Michal Yannai's Whipped Cream (1996), Yael Bar Zohar's Tushtush (1997). In 1998 he was chosen to co-host the show Heart-Talk (Balbalev) (1998–2000). He later acted in the soap opera Love is Around the Corner (Ahava Me'ever LaPina) in 2003–2004, as the boyfriend of Agam Rodberg. In later years he contributed his voice for dubbing and narration, mostly for the Israeli Sonicbooks label.
Kis-Lev lives and works in Israel's Galilee. He is a board member of the Israeli League of Esperanto Speakers, and he was the president of the Israeli League of Young Esperanto Speakers. Kis-Lev is an active member in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Israel, as well as in the Israeli Association of Visual Artists. He earned his bachelor's degree summa cum laude from the Open University of Israel focusing on music and art history.
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