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Jewish Lords of the Dance

Jewish Lords of the Dance

The ways religious Jews like to dance.

by

Dancing this holiday of Simchat Torah, I felt at home. My hands were on my friend’s shoulders and I was walking around in a circle. Jews dance in a circle, by walking.

There are some slight variations. For example, there are moves that people put on in the middle of the circle, but there is always a circle surrounding it. Now, the Simchat Torah ‘Two Handed Torah Lift Carry Torah Touch’ is an exciting dance move, but it is nothing without the circle. Any dance that can be done in front of a bride and groom is associated with the Stand and Clap circle surrounding them. All Jewish parties, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, Friday nights when we want prayers to last longer, the dance is a circle. Because that is how Jews dance, in a circle.

The circle is the root; but here are ways we Jews like to dance:

Two Handed Shoulder Hold- A classic. You can never go wrong following the person in front of you. You place your arms on their shoulders and follow. Wherever they go, you go. This way, you don’t make decisions on the dance floor, and the circle moves in the right direction. This dance is also very useful for those who do not have good balance. For those people, I suggest you brace yourself on the shoulders of the person in front of you very tightly.

Hand in Hand- Intimate circle, where hands are held. You generally want to join this circle with members of your immediate family. I have held hands with many men before, and it can get awkward when I do not know the man and the band starts with a Shwekey wedding ballad. To note: front person should always have their hand on top. Do not make the one leading you supinate their hand position. The enjoyment of the ring of brotherhood and sisterhood should not be defiled with contorted hands, because you think you are important. This should not be a power struggle. We know what you are doing. I cannot tell you how many times I have sprained my wrist and walked out of weddings with tennis elbow, because of some person that had to have both of their hands on top.

One Hand Shoulder Hold- Where you put one hand on the shoulder. The versatility of the shoulder dance genre allows you to go from two to one hand. Possibilities are endless with the One Hand Shoulder hold in the mix. The free hand can be raised, allowing for variations on the closing and opening of the hand dance.

Upper Back Hold- This is a variation on the shoulder hold dances. This dance is very useful when you can’t reach the person in front of you. Generally, this dance is done with the palm on the back. Even so, I have seen it executed with fingers, when the Simcha was not well attended.

Hora Circles- Israeli Hora style dance, where you move forward and then go back for a step. A way of saying that progress is not our goal; ‘we are moving forward, but we are not.’

The Back & Forth- A variation on the Hora, as the Hora sometimes moves forward a bit too fast. Many people like the idea of staying in one spot, such as the guy in front of me at the traffic light that wouldn’t make the left-hand turn. These people don’t appreciate the Hora’s two steps forward and one step back. For them, the one step forward and one step back is a more comforting dance. Also known as the ‘No Development,’ this is for people who like to block traffic and do not want to move while they are dancing. Standing still may also work in this dance, as it does not impede the forward progress.

Backwards circle- Always fun. You dance backwards and your body faces the outside of the circle. This dance is only done with intimate friends. Otherwise, you look like fools. It is too much fun, and you smile too much.

People Pull In- Where you pull people into the dancing circle. Seen at many simchas, this is for people who are focused on ruining conversations had by people who are still enjoying their soup.

The One Arm Pull In- Used when somebody is standing close to the circle. This works well with the ‘One Hand Shoulder Hold.’ The One Arm Pull In works best with the right hand, when your left arm is on the inside of the circle, as most people are not randomly walking in the middle of the circle. As much as good Jewish dancing is walking with poor posture, the people walking in the middle of the circle are dancing. That is how you tell if people are dancing. You see where they are walking. Walking on the inside of the circle means dancing. Walking on the outside of the circle means they are not dancing. Those are the people you pull in. Note: Be careful with the pull ins, as non-religious people being pulled into the circle may considerate it religious coercion.

The Leg lift- Popularized in the mid-90s, this is where you lift your leg every couple of steps. Kind of like a kick, many people have gotten injured doing this. I suggest that you stick to the ‘Two Handed Shoulder Hold.’ Any dance where you are holding hands can cause injury, especially when you have to supinate. With the arms on the shoulders, kicking ability is hampered and that is good. Do not try to be fancy and kick out to the sides, as that can cause injury to anybody who hasn’t stretched since high school. The uncontrolled kick may also wound people who are trying to make it to the buffet.

Remember, safety is the most important aspect of all dances, which is why you should watch out for any movement. Any dance that involves movement that is more than an unhurried walk, should be avoided.

Unfortunately I did not have time to address all important Jewish dance topics including the Hassidic Back Forth Tish arm step, how to get in shape for the circle run for weddings of those in their young 20s, how to stand and clap outside the circle, proper etiquette for when to get the circle to change directions by yelling ‘switch,’ the stand and clap, where you stand outside the circle and clap and the Chatan and Kallah kick, where you kick in front of the bride and groom while looking nothing like the Rockettes. The dances are endless. Yet, they all come back to the communal ring of brotherhood and sisterhood, at the outside circle.

A special thank you to AD, Akiva and Shlomo for their input at Jerusalem’s First Station.

October 21, 2017

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 2

(1) Don Holloway, October 24, 2017 4:09 PM

The dancing is fantastic

I am a goy who has a very close friend who is orthodox. At every occasion the dancing gives me absolute joy and puts a big smile on my face. I am so blessed to be invited to participate in the celebration as a guest of the Jewish family.

David, October 27, 2017 12:21 AM

Circle Dancing

Hope to have the honor to share a circle and smiles with you one day, Don.

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