yaron cohen was born in tel aviv, israel, in 1972, to a homemaking mother and a father who worked as a private secretary to a local judge. the youngest of three children, the future dana international was very close to her mother, bat-galim. international was a creative child, the expression of which had taken form as an interest in singing and performing at an early age. by age fourteen, international's avocation earned her a role in the cameri theater's production of joseph and the technicolor dreamcoat. what began as a conventional attraction to performing became an obsessive dream when, one evening, international witnessed, via television, israeli diva ofra haza's performance at the eurovision song contest. recognized as the most prestigious competition of its kind, globally, haza's participation was a great source of pride for all of israeli and one of inspiration for little yaron cohen. as international grew, the voice given to her imagination through the theater lead her to startling realizations about herself. though born genetically male, international came to realize, over time, that her true identity was that of a female. early childhood experimentation playing dress-up in her sister limor's clothes lead to her adopting the name sharonthe femenine form of "yaron"in late adolescence. the stage name dana international would come later.
international credits friends lior and shmulik seadia with introducing her to tel aviv's club scene. "believe it or not, i was a nerdy boy who did his homework everyday and sang in the youth choir," international explains on her website, "at the age of sixteen, shmulik took me for the first time to a dance club. i looked at the spinning lights, the moving bodies, and listened to the music. i was totally hypnotized and enchanted." her fascination with club culture manifested itself outwardly in dramatic changes to her appearance. coincidentally, international's introduction to tel aviv's nightlife and consequent epiphany regarding her gender identity coincided perfectly with the explosion of new wave music. artists like boy george, cyndi lauper and annie lennox were making a fashion case for androgyny and teenagers from israel to iowa were listening. it was at this same time that international met ofer nisim, who would become her friend, mentor and manager. though nisim was already involved in the production of his own group, drama, an instant affinity for international caused him to focus his complete professional attention on the would-be diva.
international's debut performance under nisim's guidance came as part of the drag review le la lu. using the moniker "sharon", international brought down the house with a remake of whitney houston's "my name is not susan". while houston's version of the song never received much attention statewide (save for an allusion made in salt-n-pepa's "whatta man"), international version became a surprise hit. as one would imagine, international's on-stage persona was not greeted with open arms by the majority of the israeli population. strictly religious, international's acknowledgement of her true gender identity was (and still is) regarded as an affront to cultural sensibilities.
undaunted by the resistance that she faced, international released her first album, danna international, in 1993. while her on-stage persona may not have appealed to the general public, her music certainly did. with an amalgam of songs that include english dance tracks, hebrew folk standards and arabic covers, international's music, which projected happiness and freedom, touched the hearts of many people. using the money she earned from the commercial release of the album, international journeyed to england, where she underwent sexual reassignment surgery. her second album, umpatampa, was released in 1994 and contained the song "lalya tov, eropa", which international would later perform at the distinguished eurovision song contest in 1995. though international would only place second at the 1995 competition, that same year saw the release of her third recording, eptampa.
as international's success spread to the neighboring countries, so too would the controversy. in egypt, where black market tapes of international's music had made her an icon among the country's youth, the government released statements expressing their belief that dana international was, in fact, an agent of the israeli intelligence organization mossad. allegedly intent upon corrupting egyptian youth, international's music was banned (of course, that did little to stop the black market trade that was charging upwards of five times the fair market price of recorded music). though international has visited egpytwhere she was occassionally recognized and asked for autographsshe has since been banned from the country, preventing her immediate return.
in 1996, on a new record label, international released maganona. by this time, word of international's talent and energy as a performed had reached far beyond the linguistical confines of her native israel, earning her fans across europe and as far away as the united states. a string of singles from maganona saw international through 1997. in 1998, dana international released two compilations albumsdiva ha-osef, which was marketed to local audiences, and dana international: the album, which was intended to appeal to european audiences. though busy with the promotional duties that generally accompany the release of a new album or ablums, international managed to find the time to make musical history while, at the same time, inadvertantly positioning herself at the center of a heated cultural, political and sexual debate.
in 1998, returning for her second performance at the eurovision song contest, dana international won first place for the song "diva". though israel had won the contest twice beforein 1978 and 1979it had been two decades since they had earned the honor a fact which caused a national connundrum. while staunch nationalism illicited great pride in the win, conservative religious fanaticism prevented many from completely enjoying it. israel had once again won the world's most esteemed song contest, but they were represented by a woman who was considered, by some, to embody the antithesis of israeli beliefs. international, of course, handled the whole affair with the aplomb of a true diva. upon her return from birmingham, england, she is reported as having said, "i am a citizen of israel, i was representing israel and the flag that i was holding in my hand was the israeli flag, and i'm very, very proud of it."
since then, international has continued recording. a contribution was made to the 1998 bee gees tribute album entitled gotta get a message to you and the album free was released. though international has not made public any definite plans to conquer the united states, the existance of an early fan-base is already evident on the internet and in the nightclubs of larger cities. it is likely that, once she does find the time to spread her message of love in the u.s., she will easily and quickly win over the hearts of yet another continent dedicated fans.
though it is impossible to encapsulate, in any format, the absolute miracle that is dana international's career, it is tacitly understood by her devotees. though she is not the first transvestite or transexual diva to establish a successful careerdivine, rupaul, 1.8.7the controversy and hostility illicited by her frankness is magnified a hundred-fold given the religious, political and sexual context of her upbrining. while the fact that dana international has found within herself the strength to overcome seemingly unsurmountable obstabcles that threatened to ruin herfrom dealing with her families reactions to dodging the beauracratic attacks by the governments of several nations to marketing her unique brand of music to a mainstream audienceclearly identifies her as a truly extraordinary woman, what's more amazing is, throughout it all, what's most apparent in her performances, recordings and interviews is an unswerving optimism and light-hearted spirit that mark her a diva international.