Sunday, December 16, 2007

Jewish Dance

Freylekhs (also called Karahod, Redl)

This is the major group dance of the Eastern European Jews. It's the one you see in all the old movies.
You will also see people doing a version of it at most weddings and bar mitzvahs.
The concept is simple.
Either a line or circle (or both formations interchanging) formation,
everyone steps in their own way to the music.
This doesn't mean that it's a free for all. There are characteristic movements
like a shuffling sort of walk, a two-step, alternately stepping and stamping.
The circle/line can move to the right or to the left, snaking
around the room. People can go into the middle of the circle to show off their moves.
The thread the needle figure (below) can also be a part of this dance.

I see people doing a grapevine step to this dance at most parties that I attend.
However, I haven't seen that step included in any of the dance descriptions I've read.
The grapevine step occurs more commonly in Israeli folk dance. Somehow,
I think the wires got crossed and the step migrated from one dance style to the other.
There are choreographed versions of the freylekhs in existence
(Vizonsky, Berk--liner notes from Tikva record T-117) which try to capture the
overall style of the dance but are not spontaneous the way the dance was originally done.
In order for the spontaneous freylekhs to be fun, you really need a large group of people interacting.
For a small group of 10 or 15, the choreographed versions might work better.

The community at large probably gets confused about a hora vs. a freylekhs.
The hora can mean many things. The Israeli hora is a fast paced dance done with
a shoulder hold with several characteristic steps, not really much like the freylekhs (Berk),
with the basic step being the same as the Romanian sarba step. A similar dance is
taught as the Chasidic Hora on the "Dancing into Marriage" video.
There is also a slow hora which is done to very slow 3/8 music, with its own
distinctive footwork, again very different from the Israeli hora or the freylekhs
(personal communication Jacob Bloom). In Romanian dancing, the hora seems to be
a generic word for dance but quite often refers to a sort of saw-toothed pattern
that moves in and out of the line of the circle. Then, if you travel through the
Balkans you will find many horas, horos and oros which are really non-specific words for dance.

How to thread the needle

(as demonstrated in the video "Dancing into Marriage" and in photos below)

Leader is leading the line to the left, is on the left end of the line.
I will call the leader person #1 next in line is #2 , then #3etc.

Leader #1 turns to their own right, does not pass under the arch formed between
themselves and #2. Instead the leader (#1) places their own right hand
(which is joined to person #2's left hand) on #1's left shoulder.

Leader then leads the line under the arch formed between person #2 & #3. #2 does
not go under the arch but places their own right hand (joined to #3's left hand) on #2's left shoulder.

This process continues until everyone is wound up. While the winding is going on,
people can keep time to the music by taking small steps in place.

The wound up line then snakes around the dance floor.

To unwind, the leader does their own small circle to the left, thus unwinding themselves.
Then continuing moving to the left (counterclockwise is the best way I can describe this,
although you aren't in a circle) the leader leads the line under the arch between person #2
and person#3, thus allowing #2 to unwind. This continues until everyone is unwound.

An alternate method of threading/unthreading the needle, which begins with the leader passing under the arch formed between the last two people in the line, and pulling the whole line through can be seen in this video at the 37 second point in the timeline. As in the previous description, the leader works his/her way along the line pulling the line through subsequent arches, and winds her/himself into place at the end. The last person who would pass under the arch each time, doesn't actually pass under and instead wraps their previously arched arm around their neck (easier to see in the video than to explain!) The unwinding process involves raising the arch again and pulling the tail of the line through over and over until unwound (see the video where I try to get this to happen but the music ends too soon).

Broiges Dance
See photo of Broiges Tants

The concept of this dance holds a lot of lessons for life today.
It was customary at a shtetl wedding for two individuals, usually the mothers-in-law,
to dance a pantomime of fighting and then making up, a life lesson for the newly
married couple. There are a number of choreographed versions of this dance in existence
(see published resources Vizonsky--male/female couple version,
Freehof--female couple version & Lapson-quadrille version).
Postings on the Jewish Genealogy network also indicate that in the shtetl there
were certain people who customarily danced the Broiges Dance at different community events.
These individuals improvised the dance as they went along.
The book that comes with the cd "Klezmer Music, A Marriage of Heaven and Earth"
explains how this process worked with the musicians and dancers.

For another description of a shtetl scenario, see “The Angry Dance” in Jack Kugelmass’s book
“From a Ruined Garden.” Here a mother believes her son is marrying below his status.
She performs this dance at the wedding with the grandmother of the bride, just
before the veiling of the bride. By the end of the dance they have kissed and made up.

NEW Here is a recollection of the broiges dance by Milton Blackstone, sent to me via e-mail on Sept. 13, 2002. His mother routinely danced it at celebrations with a family friend named Wolfe:
"It started out by the male courting the female and that developed into a disagreement followed by the male seeking forgiveness while she was very indignant. I seem to remember a reverse switch somewhere during the dance when the female persued the offended male, after which they got together and then the freylekh celebration came in as they danced off. all our relative's celebrations .... at some point, everyone clamored for Gussie and Wolfe to do the broiges tance.....

My mom died in 1966 at the age of 76. She came from Musnik, Lithuania in 1912 (via Riga) on the S.S. Pennsylvania and was a typical Jewish girl from a large family. Her maiden name was Lenzner. I'm most positive that she learned this tance in Europe, although I remember that she performed if most frequently at simchas held for my father's family, mostly during the late 30's - early 40's. After Wolfe passed away, some time around the mid-forties, my cousin Mildred took his place and did it with my mother. I am currently 78 and I can still see them traipsing around the floor while everyone clapped in unison......
I'd love to see it performed once more! "

You may also want to read the archives of the Jewish Music list for Sept. 13, 2002:
where this was discussed further.

Sher (or Sherele - Scissors Dance)

Also known as Volzeni Dance (Rivkind) and Hakhnaah, Hebrew for respect and
fear "because dancers bowed their heads. It was a gesture of respect."

According to Vizonsky, the sher is a Jewish adaptation of the quadrille dances being done
in the English and French courts of the 18th century. Dvora Lapson states that the
dance was originally a tailor's guild dance with the figures meant to represent a pair
of shears and threading the needle. In the movie "Dancing into Marriage" it is stated
that the dance might also refer to the cutting of the bride's hair with the shears on the
evening before the wedding as was customary.

Beregovski states that the sher originally was a woman's
dance since men and women did not usually dance together(see further discussion below).
In some areas, the non-Jewish community actually picked up the sher from
the Jewish population. According to Beregovski,the Moldavian gentile version
of the dance was called a Srayer. Further discussion on the origin of the
sher can be found in the liner notes of Budowitz's cd Mother Tongue.

Whatever its origin, the sher was a popular dance similar to a square dance.
Many versions of the sher can be found in books
(Lapson, Vizonsky, Kraus) and there is an online version on Jacob Bloom's web page.


There are many versions of the sher depending on the community from which the dance arose.
The overall concept is that of partners visiting others and then returning to their own partner.
The original dance probably went on for a long time with choruses being repeated and people
visiting one at a time, as well as time for shining. You may want to do the dance in the
traditional way or you may use the version below which has fewer repetitions.

Music: According to Joshua Horowitz of the band Budowitz (thanks Joshua), 2 versions of the
sher became standard due to their being recorded on 78's: the Philadelphia Sher and
the Russian Sher; however, other music was also used, as long as the tempo, style and
length of the piece fit the dance. I have found different shers on different cd's.
Once again listen to a few and pick the one that suits your needs.

(Arrangement by Teme Kernerman of Toronto. Based on the original version of the sher.
Additional information from the video Dancing Into Marriage.)

Formation: Square, 4 couples, woman on the right of the man
Sometimes danced with 2 couples per side (Rivkind);i.e., 8 couples,
(numbers represent which couple is which), all facing centre.
Couple 1 has their back to the music:


4 2


(A) All join hands, circle to the left for 16 counts
circle to the right for 16 counts (back to original places)

(B) Couples 1 & 3, advance towards each other for 4 counts
retire, back to place with 4 counts

Couples 1 & 3, exchange places (8 counts), see below for details of how to change places

Couples 2 & 4 advance, retire and exchange places as described for 1 & 3

Everyone now has exchanged places, it's time to go back!
The sequence is repeated exactly as above which will return everyone to their original positions.

(C) Men 1 & 3 exchange places, 8 counts

Now man 1 is with woman 3, and man 3 is with woman 1

The couples turn with the new partner for 8 counts. Position for the turn is hands on partner's

shoulders, turn to theleft, using small walking steps.

The whole process is repeated, including the turn, returning men to their original positions

This exchange process is now done using man 2 & 4 (exchange, turn, return, turn)

The entire dance can be repeated 2 or 3 times from the beginning.

All join hands, circle to left for 16 counts

(D) In the movie, Dancing into Marriage, Lee Ellen Friedland states that people
can go into the middle and shine (show off) after the circle.

(E) Now proceed to the thread the needle figure described under the freylekhs instructions
and snake around the room. It is wise to decide ahead of time, who in the group
will lead the threading. You can unwind as described in the "Thread the Needle" instructions
or if the group requires a simpler method, have everyone raise their arms and
then turn to the right part-way, which automatically unwinds everyone at once.
You may also choose to remain coiled as an ending to the dance.

According to Joyce Mollov, in the movie Dancing into Marriage, the Thread the Needle
represents the backstitch and the unwinding represents removing the stitches without breaking the thread.

How to exchange places (couples)

One method you can use is to have one of the couples raise their arms to produce an arch, and
have the other couple pass through the arch. Then, each couple must turn as a couple, with
the man backing up and the lady moving forward, positioning themselves
in their new spots, with the lady on the right.

Another method is to have the couples slip past each other as follows:

The couples advance towards each other, then each couple moves
a bit to their own right. The couples then move past each other with the men
passing left shoulders. The couples then take the exchanged position in the square.

One way to teach this technique is to have the 2 couples advance towards each
other and join hands, forming their own little circle. Circle 1/2 way round to the right.
The two couples separate from one another and each backs in to the
new position on the square. Eventually they can form an imaginary circle and slip past each other.

How to exchange places (individuals)

The two men advance towards each other with 4 steps (RLRL) taking a
little dip on the fourth step, meeting in the middle, almost right shoulder to right shoulder.

Each man moves a bit backward and to his own right. They pass left shoulders
and use the remaining 2 steps to meet the opposite lady.

The path that is traced by the men going back and forth is supposed to represent
the blades of the scissors; the rotation around each other in my mind, may
represent the pivot point of the scissors (does anyone know?).

Alternatively, the woman can be on the left of the man in couples 2& 4
(see Lapson’s choreography, reference listed in resource section).
This formation was used to avoid handholding between men and women who
were not married, assuming all 4 couples were married couples. Instead of having
2 men exchange places as described above, this version of the dance had a
man exchanging places with a woman; the turn was then done with 2 men dancing
together and 2 women dancing together. The man and woman would then return
to their own partner. Discussions on the Jewish Music List (September 13 & 14, 1999)
indicate that even this formation would not have been acceptable to traditional rabbis
and is probably a modern development (over the last 100 years) due to
a more liberalized society. However, the article by Zvi Friedhaber listed on the
resource page suggests there were people who broke the rules all along.
At the present time separate dancing is still the rule at orthodox celebrations

HanukkahRunde from Steve Weintraub (pdf format)
Arranged to fit Happy Joyous Hanukkah, by the Klezmatics

Koilitch Dance

I have only found instructions for this dance in Vizonsky's book although I saw it in the
movie Yidl with the Fidl. The dance was usually done after the wedding ceremony by an
individual woman dancing towards the married couple. The woman holds a large challah
and dances to symbolize good luck and prosperity. Vizonsky offers a specific choreography
for the dance but states it would have been very much an improvised dance in the shtetl.
In the movie there are two women dancing with the challahs.
Their movements are much less elaborate than the choreographed dance.

According to the book “From a Ruined Garden,” the special wedding challah was decorated
with multicoloured poppy seeds.. In the particular shtetl described, the women with challahs
escorted the bride and mother-in-laws down the aisle. Relatives with challahs also escorted
the wedding party from the wedding canopy.

Patsh Tanz

There are several different versions of this dance. The one most people know is
by Lillian Shapero and can be found in Lapson's book. A well researched version of the dance
is described in SOFDH's 1994 Problem Solver. Vizonsky states that this is a dance used to
welcome the bride into the fold of married women It is a couples dance that can be done
as a mixer or just a simple couple's dance. It is a great dance for children and families.
Everyone seems to enjoy the clapping and stamping that goes on.

According to Rivkind, this dance was created by Rabbi Zusya of
Hanipoli, accompanied only by stamping and clapping, no music,"to teach Jews to
worship God quietly without noise music or words." It was known as the shtiler dance.

The old Yiddish movie "The Dybbuk" has a version of the dance which is described as "Tapping Dance" in the subtitles.
Steve Weintraub has reconstructed this dance and music is available at CD Baby, on Hopkele by Kapelye.
To see a short clip of this dance, visit Leon Balaban's video site. (Please note the final partner exchange
wasn't done consistent with Steve's choreography--it's the folk process in action: I flubbed up and
in the process created a new variation :) ).

Mitzvah Dance

Based on Nathan Vizonsky's Choreography

Background: The mitzvah dance fulfilled the Torah commandment to dance before the bride.
Due to the requirement that males and females not touch, either a handkerchief, a belt, or the
train of the bride's dress was used to replace holding hands. The master of ceremonies (badkhn)
traditionally called up male wedding guests to dance with the bride, one at a time. The dance was
also called the kosher dance indicating the bride had undergone ritual purification
prior to the wedding, and also sometimes called the Shabbes Dance.

See also abstract of Judith Brin Ingber's article under references.

Rivkind differentiates the term mitzvah dance as being dancing with
the bride and groom, whereas the kosher dance referred specifically
to dancing with the kosher (ritually pure) bride. The bride's
eyes would be downcast; i.e., she would not make eye contact with
the men she danced with. In addition, the kosher dance might also
refer to the rabbi dancing with his followers, the Hasidim.

For a more complete discussion of this dance, please see the article written by Zvi Friehaber
listed under published resources.

Modifications for the recreational setting: In a dance class, everyone wants to dance and would
be unhappy sitting on the sidelines watching others dance with a fictitious bride, one at a time.
Therefore, the dance has been modified to be a couple/mixer dance. In the shtetl, everyone
would have improvised their own steps and that would have worked as each person took a turn
dancing with the bride. In a recreational dance couple/mixer setting, it is necessary to choreograph
the dance or the result would be chaos. For another example of a choreographed mitzvah dance,
see Fred Berk's version in 100 Israeli Dances.

Teaching Tip: I always tell people not to worry too much if they don't get the footwork quite right.
After all this was originally an improvised dance. The only concern is that people change partners
at the same time to avoid colliding. To ensure everyone's safety I shout "change" each time
partners change until the group seems comfortable with the dance.

Formation: partners facing in a circle, man facing out (back to centre of circle), woman
facing the man. Each partner holds a diagonal corner of of the handkerchief fairly high, about
head level, in their right hand. Men and women do the same footwork.

Music: a 4/4 or 2/4 piece of klezmer music freylekhs or bulgar will work.
If using faster music, I prefer to use 2 beats per step.
If using a slower piece of music I use one beat per step.
( Vizonsky choreographed
the dance to 4/4 allegretto music, using 2 beats per step,
but in the shtetl the tempo probably varied.)

Beregovski notes that the preferred music for the Kosher Tanz in some regions
was a Polonaise.

Notation below is for 2/4 music, one beat per step.

Measure Steps

1 Step to right with right foot (1), place left foot behind the right foot without weight (2)
reverse of measure 1
Step forward towards partner with right foot (1), touch left foot behind the right (2)
Bow or curtsey (1), straighten up (2)
while making a quarter turn to the left so the partners are now standing side by side
with the handkerchief still held high, step forward with left foot(1),
forward with right foot (2)

continue to step forward with left foot (1), touch the right foot forward (2)
Back up by stepping back on right (1), back on left (2)
step back on right(1), touch left forward (2), back to original positions,
facing each other again.

touch left heel beside right foot (1), touch left toe beside right foot
(2), man lets go of handkerchief

10 each partner now moves to their own left, men's circle will move counterclockwise,
women's circle moves clockwise
step sideward to left (1), bring the right foot
to the left foot (2) (step, together)

step sideward to left (1), kick the right foot forward (2)
each person now moves to his/her own right, step right foot sidewards to right (1),
bring the left foot to the right foot (2)
touch right heel beside left (1), touch right toe beside left
(2), man picks up the hankie again.

14 & 15
With hankie held high, both partners make a full turn clockwise under the hankie,
beginning with the right foot (1), left (2), right (1), left (2)

man lets go of hankie, each person then takes 2 steps to their own right step right (1),
step left (2) moving one place over, now facing a new partner, and man picks up the hankie.
Dance begins again

Mazel Tov Dance
Rivkind describes this as a dance done by women, individually with
the bride after the veiling of the bride (bedekns) ceremony. The badkhn
would call up each woman for her turn.

Slow Hora
( as described by Jacob Bloom, learned from Michael Alpert 1994 KlezKamp)

Slow 3/8 time signature
1 step per measure

If you check your klezmer cd’s you are bound to find a hora which has this characteristic 3/8time signature.
Note that the rhythm pattern is very different from the Israeli hora, and the dance is much slower.

Formation: circle or line, “w” hand hold
Styling: Dance progresses to the right-steps made to the right are larger than steps to the left
There is no movement into centre

Arms up and joined, arms raising slightly on each step
(facing right) Walk right, left, right, (facing center) touch left foot
(facing left) Walk left, right, left, (facing right and leaning back
slightly) touch right foot


The steps of the Bulgar will be familiar to anyone who has experience with Balkan dance,
as the steps appear under different names in different Balkan countries; e.g. sarba step in Romania.
The basic step is also the same footwork pattern as the Israeli Hora.

According to Feldman's article, the bulgar became the predominant Jewish
dance in the American Jewish community. He attributes this to the
perception that the bulgar was a secular dance that the European Jews
picked up from the surrounding community in Moldavia (bulgareasca in Moldavia);
it did not have a strong association with orthodox Jewish weddings. This
made it more appealing to the American Jewish community. However,
even the bulgar did not survive in subsequent generations due to the overall
decline of klezmer music and dance in the US.

In the book "Klezmer Music A Marriage of Heaven and Earth", the bulgar music is said to be
named after the Bulgarian inhabitants of Bessarabia; however, the connection of the music
itself to the Bulgarians is apparently not clear (personal communication, Joshua Horowitz).

Instructions (As described by Jacob Bloom, as taught by Michael Alpert1994, KlezKamp, & Mame Loshn session )

Formation: Shoulder hold, circle formation

Music: A bulgar of your choice--listen to a few as the tempo varies a great deal.

(A) Right foot steps to right
Left foot crosses in front (or behind)
(B) Right foot steps to right, left foot swings across
(C) Left foot steps to left, right foot swings across

Variations (The designated leader whether in a circle or line if the circle happens to break, determines which variation everyone does. The steps are not called; everyone just watches and imitates the leader)

1. Vary size of steps
. A & B same as variation 1
(C) Jump onto both feet with feet spread apart, hop onto left foot with right
foot swinging across
. A & B are the same as variation 1
(C) for C substitue: step Left, stamp Right beside left
. A & B are the same as variation 1
(C) Step Left, Right, Left (3 small quick steps in place)
. A & B are the same as item 1
(C) leap onto L, RL (leap followed by two small quick steps in place)
. A is unchanged
(B) leap onto R, LR (in place) (C) leap onto L, R L (in place)
. A & B unchanged
(C) step on both feet with feet spread apart,
step on both feet with legs crossed
. (A) same as item 1
(B) step on both feet with feet spread apart,
step on both feet with legs crossed,
(C) step on both feet with
feet spread apart, step on both feet with legs crossed
. First step in A is a stamp with the Right foot (towards the outside of the
circle), followed by the rest of any of the other variations.

Note: for variations 5 & 6 the leap-step-step sequences are done more or less in place like a pas-de-basque

Czardas (Jewish version)

Learned from Steve Weintraub at Winnipeg Klezmer Dance Workshop November 2001.

Notes by Helen Winkler with assistance from Steve Weintraub.

Steve learned this dance within his own family of Hungarian Jews. This dance was also done by non-religious Romanian Jews (personal communication Bob Cohen Di Naye Kapelye). Mixed dancing was not allowed in observant Chasidic communities.

Formation: Couples facing—man’s hands on woman’s upper back. Woman’s hands on man’s shoulders.

This is an improvised dance in the sense that although there are typical figures done to it, each couple does whichever figures they chose at any given time throughout the dance.

Music: Any Jewish style Czardas 4/4 or 2/4 time (my personal favourite, Track 4 of Di Naye Kapeleye’s cd Mazeldiker Yid)

Czardas Step:

The step is starting with man’s right foot, (woman uses opposite footwork):

Step R foot to R, bring L foot to the right and step on L

Step R foot to R, and close the left to it, no weight on L

Then repeat this sequence beginning with the L foot this time

There is a slight dip/lean on the 4th count into the direction of the step, R when moving R, L when moving L. The weight bearing leg does a small kneebend on the 4th count.

Rida Step
Both partners begin on R foot.

Step sideward with R to R, Step left across R

Repeat this as many times as desired. Then reverse the footwork.

It’s easy to change directions if you finish with 3 stamps

A buzz step may be substituted.

Each member of the couple makes a small jump forward diagonally to their own right, knees bent.

Then they each take a small jump backwards so as to face each other again.

Then they jump forward to the left and back to place.

Repeat as desired, usually an even number of times, usually 4 or 8, to fill a phrase of music.

In Place
This step is done as a mirror image.

Man starts on R foot, woman on L foot

Do three quick little runs in place (counts:1& 2), and hold for the (&) beat.

The free leg is extended to the side slightly. The knees stay close on the 2nd beat, but the lifted heel is extended outward, sort of like a Charlston step- the knee of the gesture leg must bend slightly to accomplish this. The accent is very much on 2. In terms of the "quick runs" the first 2 are done lightly toward the ball of the foot, and the last count -2- on a firm, flat foot.

Shtock Dance/Game
Rivkind describes this as a dance/game similar to musical chairs.
Individuals walk around the room without music. One man walks
with a stick. Suddenly, he drops the stick, sits down and everyone
scrambles for a chair (there is one less chair than people).
Whoever is left picks up the stick and the game continues.
Read more about Shtock Dance

According to Rivkind, this was a Hasidic circle dance involving multiple circles.

Kozak (also kazatske, kazatchka, Cossatchok)
The Kozak, based upon the dance of the Cossacks, is frequently mentioned
in articles and recent discussion on the Jewish music list suggests that
it remains a popular dance in many communities. This is in contrast to
Vizonsky's comment "Essentially it is the display of the warrior and was,
therefore alien to the psychology of the Jew to whom it was wholly
unacceptable." Zeitlin indicates that the Cossack dance referred to the
more vigorous version which included "Somersaults, handstands and flips."
Cossatchok was the less vigorous version. This dance is mentioned in
2 of the dance stories on my web site, one dating back to the 1800s.
The question is, in view of the history between the Cossacks and
the Jews in Eastern Europe, why was/is this dance so popular among Jews?

No comments: