Klezzing in the Peg: Helen's Dream Vacation

For some it's Paris, for others Rome, but my dream vacation was simpler. Ever since I was bitten by the klezmer bug a few years ago, all I wanted was to have the opportunity to attend a Yiddish dance workshop. My first plan to attend had to be cancelled due to serious illness in the family; a few months later though, I was ecstatic to discover that the Manitoba International Folk Dance Association (MIFDA) had decided to host a klez dance event in Winnipeg, with instructor Steve Weintraub of KlezKamp fame. Although once again illness threatened to prevent my attending, with the help of supportive friends, on November 23, 2001, I found myself on a plane bound for the Peg as it's called.

Steve Weintraub and I had met online previously. It was wonderful to enter the workshop venue and finally meet face to face. For me, Steve's opening freylekhs was a moment of truth. Through on and offline research, I had come to a level of understanding of what I thought a freylekhs would look like. However, anyone who's taught folk dancing knows that written dance descriptions rarely completely capture a dance. You must experience the dance to really learn it. I was happy to find that what we learned from Steve was in line with what I expected. It was also most interesting to try some of the typical styles/steps used in the shine (exhibition dancing done in the centre of the circle). This required knowledge of the Yiddish dance stance: feet planted firmly on the ground, yet having a sense of "helium" in the chest-a proud yet grounded position. Moving in a circle with this body placement involved what Steve calls "bedroom slipper walking." 

From the freylekhs, we moved on to a number of traditional Eastern European Jewish dances as well as some more modern Hasidic style moves and steps. Here is a list of what I recall was taught:

Freylekhs, shining, threading the needle, Grand March, Mezinke Tanz
Rebbe Elimelech's Tanz (aka Over and Under)
Philadelphia Sher
Choreographed Sher
Keystad Herokdin Lifnay Ha-Kale
Flash Tanz

Hasidic dance steps, men & women's versions including a modern simkhe dance
Yerushalayimer Hora (A Bulgar done to Turkishe music)
Czardas (Steve learned this within his own family who originally came from Hungary)
Broiges Tanz
Nigun Atik
(Israeli couples' dance)
Koilitch Tanz
Some Ukrainian show dance steps for a kadril taught by a couple of Ukrainian dancers who appeared at the event and wanted to share.

We spent Friday Evening and all day Saturday learning dances. When we weren't dancing, we were talking about dancing or watching dance clips from old and newer movies. Saturday evening, a mock wedding was staged complete with kale, khosn and even a koilitch. With musical accompaniment provided by several members of the Finjan ensemble, we went on to celebrate the khasene using the dances we had learned earlier.

Now a word about our hosts, MIFDA. First of all, after teaching the Flash Tanz, Steve complemented the group on their bottle balancing skills. In fact, he said that Winnipeg now has the highest per capita Flash Tanz rate of any city he knows. This is a complement befitting a place that also has the highest per capita Slurpee consumption (or so I've been told). So, don't be surprised if you see folks in the Peg leaving the 7/11 balancing Slurpees on their heads. They're obviously MIFDA members honing their Flash Tanz skills.

Fitting the Yiddish theme, our hosts became Jewish mothers, always feeding us: first goodies, then a pot luck lunch and bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. In true Yiddish style they nudjed us to clean our plates and finish our veggies. "What's the matter-you don't like broccoli?"

I thank MIFDA for organizing this event. I'm looking forward to visiting you again. I also thank Steve Weintraub for presenting the dances. It's great to move on from cyberdancing to the real thing.

See photos
A Mock Wedding

The Bottle Dance