Dance Stories--Send Me Yours!

Dance Recollections of Volynya
Contributed by Halina Minadeo, March 2016
My grandmother used to show me the dances from her youth in Volynya, such as the Pas d'Espagne, which I found in your dances.  This melody is also featured on some of the old Yiddish music collections.  My father, whenever he was invited to a Jewish wedding, always danced the kazatsky and would come home wearing his paper yamaka, grinning from ear to ear and showing off how superbly he had performed to the delight of the guests.  In short, Yiddish music has always been a sweet part of our life ever since we arrived in the US as WWII survivors in 1950.  It is from our Central European culture, which Christians and Jews share.  My love for this music remains strong as I near my 73rd year.

My grandmother showed me the Troika, a dance done with three persons, waltzes, mazurkas, obereks, polonaise, polkas, even more.  She lived in a very fine household, bankers and priests, even a gynecologist  aunt, so she was fortunate enough to enjoy a  rich life before the Soviet revolution.  She also danced  Russian folk dances onstage clad in the colourful dress and kokoshnik.  Volynya belonged to Poland, most spoke Russian, there were many Jewish neighbours who were close friends, so there was a rather multicultural atmosphere.  
The Jewish community was quite integrated.  They participated in the dancing of the region, depending on their social status, the well-to-do more apt to do the popular russian ballroom dances, the peasants indulging in freylekhs, kadrils, karakhod.  My grandmother also mentioned the freylekhs niggunim played in the village when the couple and parents were led to and from the huppah (tsu der khupeh fun der Khupeh).  There was also the Kadril, which is probably the same as the sherele, the "scissors dance" with four couples.  My father was from the Galicia region, where Jewish dances included the local kolomeyka and hutsulka.  There was an overlap with rumania, so they also danced the sirba of Moldova.  I wish that i had recorded all her description of life in the old country.  she never learnt english, stayed at home and cooked, embroidered, drew and took care of us while our parents worked.  in her spirit, My grandmother never left her home in Volynya.  despite the hardships of the war and the refugee camps, life seemed so rich and beautiful, like the old songs and 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 grandfatherwas 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 inand 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 likewater, meats and poultry and patties of every description and when the womenstarted 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 witheveryone 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.

By Jackie Richards
May 1990
used with permission
All families have traditions and folklore passed on from one generation to thenext. 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 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! 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!