Sarah Levi-Tanai

Sarah Levi-Tanai (1910 – October 2, 2005) was an Israeli choreographer and composer, the founder and director of the dance troupe "Inbal," and a pioneer of dance in Israel. She was awarded the Israel Prize for Dance in 1973.

Early Life

Sarah Levi-Tanai was born in Jerusalem to parents of Yemenite descent who had immigrated to the Land of Israel in the late 19th century. Her parents raised her in Jaffa, but during World War I, the Jewish population of Jaffa was expelled by the Ottoman authorities, and they were relocated to a refugee camp in Kfar Saba.

Initially, Sarah's brother and mother were lost, and she traveled with her father to Safed. Afterward, her father also passed away, leaving her orphaned at a young age. She was sent to an orphanage in Safed and later to the "Shapira" children's institution.

After her time in the institution, she enrolled in teacher training at the Levinsky College of Education in Tel Aviv. After completing her studies, she worked as a kindergarten teacher in the Shapira neighborhood of Tel Aviv and lived with the Sopher family. It was in their home that her birth year was determined.

During her work as a kindergarten teacher, Levi-Tanai composed and composed children's songs and play songs. Many of these materials were published by the Kindergarten Center as a pedagogical booklet for kindergarten teachers.

She also learned dance at Zvi Friedland's studio but failed to be accepted into either of Tel Aviv's two major theaters. She lamented, "I wasn't accepted at the Bima Theater or even at the Ohel Theater; it hurt me deeply, and I felt rejected solely because I was an Easterner with an Eastern accent."

In Friedland's studio, Sarah met Israel Tanai, who had immigrated to Palestine from Europe in 1933, and they married in 1935. Israel Tanai, who would later serve as the CEO of the Teachers' Organization, passed away in 1963 at the age of 52.

Career and Artistry

Following her disappointment with unsuccessful attempts to join the Hebrew Theater, Sarah traveled to London in 1938, where she tried to become an actress and performed as a singer. She returned to the Land of Israel after about half a year.

Her initial steps in dance began as a writer and director of ceremonies and masquerades for kibbutzim and settlements, alongside her work as a kindergarten teacher.

In addition to writing and composing songs for performances, she also choreographed dances for these ceremonies. Notable among these performances are "Song of Songs" in Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh and "Ruth" (1947) and "Genesis" (1950) in Kibbutz Mishmar HaSharon.

Levi-Tanai also wrote and composed songs and musical compositions for dances, particularly well-known is her song "Al Ginat Egoz." She also wrote songs for children, including "Nisder Maagal Gadol" (We'll Arrange a Big Circle), "Litzan Katan Nechmad" (Little Nice Clown), and "Banu Choshech Legaresh" (We've Come to Drive Away the Darkness). In 1957, she composed the lyrics for "Sparrows," originally in Russian and translated by Leah Goldberg.

Levi-Tanai wrote the dance piece "Asif VeSukkah," arranged by Gil Aldema, with music by Emanuel Amiran.

In 1949, Levi-Tanai began working with a group of young boys and girls from the Yemenite community. The meetings took place at the Carmel School building. The young participants experimented with games, movement, and more. This group eventually gave rise to the first generation of dancers for the "Inbal" troupe, which initially comprised seven members.

The troupe officially began its organized work in 1950 and was initially called "Sara Levi's Eastern Troupe." The troupe performed in various settlements, kibbutzim, and other communities as part of the activities of the Histadrut Cultural Center.

After performing at the Folk Dance Festival in Daliah in 1954, the troupe received financial and organizational support from the Norman Foundation (later the America-Israel Cultural Foundation), which allowed them to create under optimal conditions and expand the number of troupe members to 12.

The reactions to Levi-Tanai's work were mixed, with some viewing her work as "Eastern folklore." Nevertheless, "Inbal" was chosen to represent Israel internationally. Between 1957 and 1959, the troupe embarked on performance tours in North America and Europe.

Levi-Tanai served as the artistic director of the "Inbal" troupe for forty years and achieved significant success both in Israel and during international performance tours. She wrote numerous dance pieces that incorporated themes from the Bible, Jewish traditions, and pioneers, including motifs from various Jewish communities, with a focus on Yemenite Jewry.

Among her well-known works are "Yemenite Wedding" and "The Lottery." While working with "Inbal," Levi-Tanai collaborated extensively with the musical director and composer of the troupe, Ovadia Tuvia.

Levi-Tanai is buried in the Artists' Section at the Yarkon Cemetery.


On June 16, 2016, the plaque commemorating Sarah Levi-Tanai was removed from the entrance to the "Inbal" Theater, located at 15 Amzaleg Street in Tel Aviv. Next to the plaque, there is an explanatory stand with information about Levi-Tanai in both Hebrew (narrated by Gil Hovav) and English, along with her photograph.

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