I have listed the dances alphabetically on this page. Dances with lengthy descriptions are continued on their own pages and are noted above in the menu. In addition you may wish to view my online dance syllabus which contains more information on many of the dances presented here.
Photo by Leon Balaban
A Yinglele A Meydele--See Intructions by Erik Bendix, Musical Notation #1, Musical Notation #2
This is usually a children's dance, but adults can do it too. A choreographic variation to the dance notated, can be found in the liner notes of Lori Cahan Simon's Cd Vessel of Song: The Music of Mikhl Gelbart, along with the original lyrics. The CD is available at CDBaby.com . Thanks to Binyomin Ginzberg for the musical notation.
Boyker [from the Hebrew word “Boker” which means morning, since this dance was commonly danced at daybreak at the end of a wedding celebration]
Boyker is a dance known to Michael Alpert and also notated in an unpublished manuscript from Stanislav, which was brought to our attention by Jeff Wollock. Michael associates the dance with the Carpathian region, particularly in areas in Marmarosh and Bukovina. He learned 2 versions of this dance from the late Itsik Shvarts. The music for this dance is provided by singing:
"Boyker, oy, boyker, di tayeres yoyker..." (Morning, oh morning, you precious treasure..), followed by a wordless refrain. [at this time I don’t have the melody HW] The dance consists of a chain of dancers weaving their way around the tables, while singing. I thank Michael Alpert for providing information about this dance.
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. Read More
Bulgar, see also Erik Bendix's Instructions for Bulgar
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
2. A & B same as variation 1
(C) Jump onto both feet with feet spread apart, hop onto left foot with right foot swinging across
3. A & B are the same as variation 1
(C) for C substitue: step Left, stamp Right beside left
4. A & B are the same as variation 1
(C) Step Left, Right, Left (3 small quick steps in place)
5. A & B are the same as item 1
(C) leap onto L, RL (leap followed by two small quick steps in place)
6. A is unchanged (B) leap onto R, LR (in place) (C) leap onto L, R L (in place)
7. A & B unchanged (C) step on both feet with feet spread apart,
step on both feet with legs crossed
8. (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
9. 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
I came upon this dance while reading a description of a wedding held in Grodizisko-dolne, Poland http://www.sztetl.org.pl/en/article/grodzisko-dolne/5,history/ :
"The orchestra, with its leader, Chaim (the barber) the violin player, play a waltz, a polka, a Krakowiak. Mordechale-Psachie-dem-Glers announces the hit of the ball: a dance called «colondance», known in the village from generations and passed over from mothers to daughters. In reality nobody knew where it had come from and what the lyrics meant. The boys stand in a row on one side, the girls on the other side, Mordechale is in the center, gives the rhythm «forward colondance pa, pa, pa». To the measure of music the dancers, holding hands, move forward, then boys change their partners, who are delighted with it. Much time passed till I understood after my long stay in France what colondance meant. It was a minuet, an old French dance. But how this dance of the French aristocracy found itself in our village remains a mystery which I have never succeeded to solve” .
While the informant, artist Ilex Beller (b 1914, left Poland 1928 for Belgium), thought this dance was a minuet, it sounds more like some sort of contra style dance, as the minuet is a single couple dance and doesn't involve changing partners. Background about Beller can be found here:
http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/Kolbuszowa/grodziskodolne/sl_grodziskodolne6.html (bio)http://genforum.genealogy.com/beller/messages/130.html (family information)
I've looked at his artwork online, but so far have not found a painting that illustrates this dance, although he did paint shtetl wedding scenes.
I came across one more reference to the minuet—early 19th century German Jewish weddings which were similar to Eastern European Jewish weddings, according to the description. They do not describe how the minuet was danced, but said it was something danced by women right after the veiling of the bride. Then they describe the dancing that followed as "jumping around." This can be found in the book "Jewish Daily Life in Germany 1618-1945," by Marion A Kaplan, page 150.
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)
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.
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.
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.
Dance of Despair
This dance is alluded to in Miriam Shomer Zunser's description of a wedding in Pinsk, circa 1866 (see resource page for details)
A dance choreographed by Nicolaas Hilferink to a Yiddish theatre song. View Erik Bendix's dance notation .
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. Often, the circling figure begins after completing a grand march, the details of which are described in my Syllabus. Briefly, the grand march consists of casting off by ones, twos, fours, eights, in kind of a procession. The thread the needle figure can also be a part of this dance. Read More
HanukkahRunde from Steve Weintraub (pdf format)
Arranged to fit Happy Joyous Hanukkah, by the Klezmatics
According to Rivkind, this was a Hasidic circle dance involving multiple circles. Probably another term for Freylekhs. You can find Rivkind's book in the resource section of this web.
This actually a Russian ballroom dances that was also done by Jews. It is also done at international folk dance gatherings. Dance description submitted by Erik Bendix
This dance is mentioned in 2 yizkor books and there is a known version within non-Jewish Ukrainian culture. It is a men's follow the leader type dance. In the Ukrainian version of the dance, the leader has a strap which he uses to strike whichever dancers fail to properly follow his movements. We are unsure of exactly how the Jewish dance was done, though it also seems to be a follow the leader dance, with the person who fails to follow having to pay the band. For more on this dance including sound clips of the Ukrainian version please visit the Kaperush page. If you are aware of a Jewish variant of this song or dance, please contact me email@example.com . Any information is welcome.
This actually a Russian ballroom dance that was also done by Jews. It is also done at international folk dance gatherings. Dance description submitted by Erik Bendix
A Jewish dance in the style of a Hasidic man. This could be either a slow improvisational freylekhs or at times, a parody. Dance description provided by Erik Bendix
A Ukrainian folk dance also enjoyed by the Jewish community in Ukraine. Dance Description submitted by Erik Bendix.
This actually a Russian ballroom dance that was also done by Jews. It is also done at international folk dance gatherings. Dance description submitted by Erik Bendix
This actually a Polish ballroom dance that was also done by Jews. It is also done at international folk dance gatherings. Dance description submitted by Erik Bendix for a version from Ukraine. Also of note there is a related Romanian folk dance called Brasoveanca, that utiltizes a Krakoviak melody and some of the same movements, but is much less complex. Many examples of Brasoveanca occur on Youtube.
Kozak (also kazatske, kazatchka, Cossatchok)
The Kozak, based upon the dance of the Cossacks, is frequently mentioned
in articles 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?
I have only found instructions for this dance in Vizonsky's book although it appears 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.
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.
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'seyes 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. Read More
Watch on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cg-8ZPwZg98 &
This is an old Russian ballroom dance meant to emulate Spanish dance styles. It was part of the klezmer repertoire. Notation of a doable version of this dance, is in my online dance syllabus . To enjoy historic versions of this dance, please see Dick Crum's translations from old French and Russian dance manuals. View historic illustrations from old Russian dance manual.
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, referenced on the resource page. 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. Miriam Shomer Zunser makes reference to this dance in her memoir (see resource page). Patsh tanz 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. Video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPhmc4Tya60
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. Read More
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. Reference to a dance by the same name is in a yizkor book translated by Yale Strom in the Book of Klezmer: "One deaf man got up on a table and with his cane did the shtek tants." [at a wedding]
Memorial Book of Suchowola, 1957. Learn more about the Shtok Game/Dance.
Slow Horawatch on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KB0a5kw1fAM
See video of Slow Hora from Ashkenaz Festival 2008, led by Steve Weintraub
( 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
Visit the Hora page to learn more about the meaning of the word "Hora.
Terkisher is a genre of klezmer music that is played in the style of Greek or Turkish tunes. Eriki Bendix has contributed his reconstructon of a possible way of doing this dance, based on syrtos, a well known greek dance.
Vengerke This is another Russian ballroom dance that was also done by Jews. It is meant to represent a Hungarian dance style. I found an illustrated old Russian dance manual online, with pictures of people dressed in costumes to dance Vengerka and here it is in English as well Watch on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-dO9onP8_g