Maccabi dancers

Detroit’s Maccabi dance team plans to bring its usual heat to this year’s competition.

Photography by Derrick Martinez

The Detroit Maccabi dance team just wants to have fun. A group of 17 close-knit girls ranging in age from 12 to 16, the dancers clearly have a great time together and love what they are doing.

The team’s upbeat attitude and familial dynamic are responsible for their history of success, according to coaches Liz Rosen and Paula Lynn. The JCC Maccabi Games will be held for the sixth time in Detroit Aug. 4-9.

“Detroit does very well in dance at Maccabi,” Lynn said as she observed her team warming up at a rehearsal. “Hopefully, we can live up to the high expectations for our team this year.”

Dance is one of Detroit’s most successful Maccabi competitions. The teens consistently bring home first place in their production numbers and a majority of the gold medals in the individual and small group dances.

Despite the high expectations, the girls are just there to have a good time. The team’s welcoming atmosphere and the strength of the friendships they have formed is something that continuously impresses first-time coach Paula Lynn, who decided to begin coaching after her daughter, Mari, aged out of the Maccabi competition.

With concentration, Nicole Spizizen practices a move.

“After my daughter aged out, we both wanted to stay involved in the team, so I decided to coach,” Lynn said. “Mari is our official assistant coach.”

“I absolutely love Maccabi,” said Mari, 17. “Being an assistant coach is a different perspective than being a dancer, but I like being able to be someone the younger girls can look up to.”

Because Detroit is hosting the games this year, delegations from the area can have younger athletes compete. The dance team has its youngest group in a quite a while, consisting of multiple 12- and 13-year-old dancers.

Mina Levin of Birmingham, 12, is competing for the first time this year.

“I joined the team because I love to dance and it sounded like fun,” she said.

Coaches Lynn and Rosen have been impressed with how the more experienced dancers have made the younger girls feel at home.

“We have such a nice team,” Lynn said. “They were all new at some point, so they know what it’s like, and they just want to help.”

For many of the girls, it is important to encourage new dancers because they were nervous when they first joined the team.

Maccabi dancers talking
Nicole Spizizen, Emma Goldschmidt and Rachel Weiss
talk with assistant coach Melanie Taylor.

Emma Goldschmidt, 16, of Waterford didn’t know anyone when she joined the team four years ago.

“I was so scared when I started, but everyone was super nice and made me feel comfortable,” she said.

Dancer Emma Salle of West Bloomfield had a different set of anxieties when she joined the team.

“I thought everyone would be a better dancer than me,” she said with a laugh.

Despite these initial fears, after several years on the team, the dancers are always reluctant to leave.

Rachel Weiss, 16, has been on the team for three years and will age out after this year’s games. When she stated this would be her last year, she was met by a chorus of sighs, with a few girls remarking on how sad it was she had to leave.

Once they join the team, dancers typically stay until they age out, only leaving if they have a major conflict with the dates of the competition itself, such as a vacation or summer camp. Some even stay after they are too old to compete, acting as assistant coaches or choreographers.

Sloan Lemberg and Melanie Taylor are examples. Lemberg now works with the team as a choreographer and Taylor will be an assistant coach for the third year in a row.

“I wouldn’t change my experience with the team for the world,” Taylor said. “We have improved so much in the last few years. Of course, I want them to win medals and let their moms get a video for Facebook, but the most important thing is that they have fun and are able to build relationships with other Jewish teens.”

maccabi dance team coaches
Coaches Melanie Taylor and Sloan Lemberg

During her time on the team, Mari Lynn said she developed strong friendships with her teammates.

“Everyone on the team is really special,” she said. “We really are like sisters.”

Not only are the dancers close with the members of their own team, but they have also forged friendships with dancers on teams from all over the country.

Weiss of Walled Lake said she is most excited this year to see her friends from other cities she has met over the years.

The team is particularly close to the dance delegation from Washington state — so much so that they have an ongoing group-chat and even decided to do an anonymous gift exchange last Chanukah.

This year, the team has two production numbers that include all 17 girls. One is set to a Michael Jackson medley and is categorized as “open” because of its varied styles. The second piece is a traditional Israeli dance with a modern twist. There will also be a number of duets and trios.

Additionally, 11 girls will be performing solos in the lyrical, modern, jazz and hip-hop categories.

The Maccabi dance team will be competing on Aug. 5, 7 and 8. Check online throughout the week for live coverage!

Read more: Detroit JCC Maccabi by the Numbers