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Dance Stories

I hope to enlarge this section so please send me your stories of Eastern European Jewish dances!

The Sher
By Helen Winkler

On March 7, 2000, I did a dance class for a Jewish women’s group here in Calgary
and presented a selection of Eastern European and Israeli dances. I happened to mention
that there is a Jewish square dance called the sher. The women insisted that I teach
it to them, which I did. Later, one of the participants approached me. She said her
grandfather, now deceased, used to play sher music on the old 78 records. He tried
to explain to the family how the sher was danced in Russia. They never thoroughly
understood and thought it was a circle dance because Zeida always mentioned circling.
After learning the sher from me, the granddaughter finally understood what her grandfather
was trying to say. At last she had a dance connection with her grandfather.

The Shaddach Mystery
By Helen Winkler

On March 2, 2000, I received a message from a person named Victor Stone in England.
In the process of editing the memoirs of a relative who was born in Sheffield in 1875,
Victor came across a passage describing an assortment of dances that were done at a bar mitzvah.
He was able to identify most of the dances sometimes using my web page as a guide; many of the
dance names had unusual spelling. However there was one dance, shaddach that remained a mystery.
Was it a version of the sher? Was it something else? The first thought that came to me was that
the dance was the czardas, a Hungarian dance. What would it be doing in England?
Further questioning revealed that the Sheffield Jewish community actually had its roots in
and around Suwalki, Poland. I had read about a version of the czardas called "venegerke" in
Ruth Rubin’s Jewish Voices book. A wedding in Poland where the czardas
was done was even mentioned in the book.

Final confirmation of the czardas’s existence in Poland came from Dick Crum.
There was a ballroom version of czardas that "spread like wildfire" throughout the
Austro-Hungarian empire in the late 1800s. It was done in Jewish communities as
well as in the general community in Poland.
So, the shaddach/czardas mystery was solved!

Below is the extract from the memoir that mentions the dances, that were done at
the bar mitzvah of Marcus Brown on June 17, 1882 in Sheffield England:

The party was a huge success, whiskey and wine of every vintage flowed like
water, meats and poultry and patties of every description and when the women
started dancing alone, the Broiges dance, which is a dance of scorn,
(everyone is supposed to be mad at everyone else). The acting was something
out of this world. The dance was followed by the Shaddach[czardas], and a bouncing
polka and then the Polkovnik and the different people put on the act of
the Cossacks. After that, everybody danced the karod [Karahod] in a large ring with
everyone all holding hands, and when the music starts, you go round and keep
changing partners until you come to the end of the ring . More drinks were
consumed and more food eaten and merriment reigned supreme. The party kept
up until 3:00 a.m. and when everyone started for home they could hardly walk
from sheer delight and weariness. The Bar Mitzvah was a huge success and the
incident of the donkey cart was a standing joke for years to come.

Abstract from original typewritten memoirs of Deborah "Dolly" (nee Bloch) Rosenholz,
born in Sheffield, England in March 1875, emigrated to America in February 1896, and lived to
be almost 85 years old. Permission is granted to use this quote by the family of Deborah nee Bloch.

Note from Helen—The karahod described here sounds like a grand chain. This is different
than the freylekhs/karahod described in my dance descriptions section. However, in the liner
notes of Budowitz’s new cd, Wedding Without a Bride, by Joshua Horowitz 
(from an interview with Jeremiah Hescheles), karahod is
defined as any dance that "goes round and round and as such referred to any dance
that was played and danced repeatedly." This serves to emphasize the
non-specific nature of the names of dances.

 

THE FAMILY DANCE

By Jackie Richards
May 1990
used with permission

 

All families have traditions and folklore passed on from one generation to the
next. For some it is Yiddish food or songs, for others it might be stories of
ancestors and harder times. As well as sorrows there are fun times that are twined
into a family's memory with the inevitable exaggeration and rosy feeling of
nostalgia.

Well, in our family, as well as food (its taken for granted that grandma's was the
best in the world!) it's dancing. Not the Hora or modern Israeli dancing, but the
GUZASZKA. At family weddings, bar mitzvahs and other dos, it is expected that I'll
be thrusting my legs in and out from a crouched position on the floor. I only have
to hear the refrain

dum di dumdidum
dum di dum dum
dum di dum di
dum dum dum

and there I'll be, full of energy, dancing away, legs in and out and arms
folded, then stretched as I jump high in the air, spinning and skipping round the
floor dancing to the rhythm and the essence of the music. Guests form a large
circle clapping and watching on. Others people might join in for a few moments
but I'll stay to the end, dancing with my whole being and my spirit on fire! Now
it is reputed that my Grandpa Jack, who died before I was born, was just the same.....
and so I must have got it from him.... and of course, he was just the same as Jacov........
 and so it goes on, way back!

Well does it?... or will it?

Now, just in case you think I am an athletic youth of twenty you must understand
that this is not so. I have been doing the Guzaszka since I was six and I am now
over forty. I am not sure how many times I have performed, or how many evening
dresses I have nearly ruined, but we are a huge family so there have been lots of
opportunities to dance.

Last year at cousin Clare's wedding, I danced as usual and when the music

stopped....I knew !..... THAT WAS THAT!

I MUST RETIRE!

I managed to dance the whole way through but I was feeling stiff and exhausted.
Of course I landed on the floor more than once because I couldn't keep my balance
and I was not so agile as I used to be! Better to stop, than injury myself or look and act like a fool!

So...... on to the next generation!!

My boys are taking up the challenge. On top of swimming, piano, football and schoolwork,
and not forgetting Hebrew, they are now learning Jewish dancing guzaszka style!
In the kitchen I wash up while they fall down ..... bump on the floor! ...in fits
of laughter!.... while their Dad who is not Jewish looks on amused and becomes even
more convinced that he has married into a mad family!
Well, the great test is coming soon!.... there is another family wedding. Will I be
able to control my strong urge to dance when the music starts ? Can I stick to my
conviction and retire? Will the boys take over or will they become shy and self
conscious?.... Who knows!

When the music plays, I will stand at the edge of the circle with the rest of the family and
guests, watching as the boys attempt to dance for the first time in public... over my
shoulder and in my heart, all the past generations will be watching with me..... watching ........
watching..... as the next link in the chain of life takes over.....

so it will be ...or will it ?.......
I will have to let you know !

 

 

Addendum April 2000

Of course I have not stopped dancing!

I just have to hear klezmer music (or any other kind of music for that matter!) and away I go,
interpreting the music with my whole being. I am now over fifty and still at it!

Dancing is the joy I have been blessed with and links me to my past and I hope I will continue
for a long time to come. My sons, now in their late teens, think I am an embarrassment - in the
healthy way that each generation views their mother, - but one day, there might be some
little people, now unknown, to whom I will pass on this rich dancing chain. The next
generation will dance as an expression of love and joy edging towards a complete and fulfilled world!

 

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