Yiddish Dance Page
Dances of The Jews of Eastern Europe
דף ריקודי יידיש של הלן
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Yizkor Book Translation
Yiddish dancing at
1After Motl Talalyevsky, Mayn
Freylekhs un Mayn Sher, Chana Mlotek, "Concerning a Convicted
Soviet-Jewish Poet," Forverts, Sept. 19-25, 2008; translation by Joseph
A. Levine, "Yiddish Dance Songs,"
Journal of Synagogue Music, Fall 2010
Introduction or Why I Decided to do This Page
I have been involved in international and Israeli folk dancing for a
long time. I was aware that Israeli dances sometimes had Eastern
European/Chasidic influence. That's where my knowledge ended. One day,
while I was reading about Chasidic dance as part of preparation for my
Canadian Dance Teacher's Association exam, I came upon a statement to
the effect that Patsh Tanz was a traditional wedding dance used to
welcome new brides into the fold of married women. It was like they say
"Columbus discovered America" for me. Did this mean that there were
traditional Jewish folk dances in Eastern Europe that were associated
with the wedding ritual? Thanks to the internet, I found out about a
book by Nathan Vizonsky that described a number of these dances. Thanks
to the Jewish-Music internet discussion group, I met some people who
are also interested in our dance heritage and referred me to other
references and experts in the field. This web page explains what I have
found so far.
I welcome comments, links and dance descriptions from other like-minded individuals. You may ask, why did this dance form almost disappear from the Jewish community. To be honest, it did not actually disappear. Chasidic Jews continue to do their own version of traditional dances (but even their dances are changing e.g. women's simkhe dances). However, for the rest of us I think it's safe to say that the dances did virtually disappear (except for a modern rendition of the freylekhs). The most tragic reason for this is the holocaust; the communities where the dances were done were destroyed as were the people. Those that were left assimilated into modern society. The state of Israel was created, drawing attention to a new and vibrant Israeli folk dance culture.
The decline of klezmer music and dance in America is explored in an article by Zev Feldman. He points out that klezmer music was marginalized by the Jewish community and was never supported by Jewish institutions such as schools and synagogues. Without this support the music could not survive very long in the transplanted Jewish community. Because more secular values were adopted by American Jews, the community also actually chose to discard traditional dances that had previously been associated with orthodox Jewish weddings.
However, klezmer is with us again, revived and revitalized, as they say. Who can sit still when listening to this fantastic music? You have to dance. There is a beautiful simplicity to traditional dances like the freylekhs, that welcomes everyone to join in, regardless of age, virtuosity or experience. It's time to bring these dances back into our lives, to celebrate together, to enjoy. It is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish people that we are still here, and we are still dancing.
If you read about shtetl dances or watch old Yiddish movies, you will come to realize that the dances usually involved a good deal of improvisation; i.e. they weren't choreographed dances. You will also notice that the dance descriptions in all of the folk dance books are choreographed to suit the recreational dance setting. The dances now being taught at the klezmer dance workshops tend to be more like the shtetl versions. Hopefully there will soon be videos and books that reflect this. Perhaps some of you out in cyber land would like to write descriptions of how you do these dances in your groups.
As with all folk dancing, the best way to learn the dances is from someone who knows how to do them rather than using a cookbook approach. The difficulty remains that not everyone can attend the workshops for financial/geographical reasons. So, here is a place to start learning. Hopefully, some day, these dance traditions will once again be passed down the generations within each community.
The dance descriptions I have found are not specific as to region or shtetl. At the present time I donít have this information. In all likelihood there were variations but we may never know exactly-the shtetls were destroyed and their few remaining residents were scattered all over the world. These are only bits and pieces of the whole puzzle.
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