Dances

A lot of klezmer music was created for dancing.

 

As interest in klezmer began to rekindle from the 1980s onwards, it became clear that understanding the dance can really help with playing a tune. Reconstructions of dances were made by talking to people who remembered the steps, finding written descriptions, and rediscovering old Yiddish films that included wedding scenes with dancing.

 

In eastern Europe, the dances permitted within Jewish communities would depend on how progressive they were. More religious or traditional communities would only allow men to dance with men, and women with other women.

 

Some tunes work for more than one dance, so for example sometimes khosidl=freylekhs; freylekhs=bulgar; bulgar=sirba. Sher=freylekhs every time! You can see this in the Kostakowsky collection.

Dances at Jewish weddings in the past included beggar, broiges, dybbuk, koilitch, mitsve/kosher, servant, and shver un shviger dances. Also the couples’ bulgar, hopke, runde and shuster. For some we have tunes but no steps, and in other cases only the name remains.

Also danced in eastern European Jewish communities, and/or played by klezmorim for non-Jewish community events, were honga (ange, hangu), kolomeyke, komarinska, kozachok (kozatshke), krakowiak, lancers, march (mars), mazurka, oberek, olandre (lyondre), pas d’espan, polka, quadril (kadril, quadrille), shuster, waltz (vals).

In-laws dancing at a wedding

Klezmer dancers & dance leaders working internationally today include:

  • Australia and Tasmania Audrey Fine, David Wanless 

  • Canada Avia Moore, Helen Winkler

  • France Hélène Domergue-Zylerberg

  • Germany Andreas Schmitges

  • Sweden Helene Don Lind

  • UK Guy Schalom, Ilana Cravitz, Michael Alpert, Sue Cooper, Vivi Lachs

  • USA Deborah Strauss, Judy Sweet, Steven Weintraub,
    Zev Feldman

 

For more dances and related information go to:

Bulgar

Bulgar at different speeds. Demo video from Yiddish Summer Weimar

Bulgar

Originating in eastern Europe and developed in the US, the dance has 6 steps that cut across the beat. Bulgar melodies are generally characterised by triplets and syncopation, and are generally played faster for listening than for dancing.


Time signature: 2/4 or 4/4

Mood: up-tempo and cheerful

Freylekhs

Freylekhs at a ball - at Yiddish Summer Weimar

Freylekhs

Judging by the number of tunes with this name, the most popular dance in Jewish eastern Europe was the freylekhs. The basic step is a walk to the right with slight bounce between beats. The dance tends to be lengthy and fairly unstructured, generally including circles and chains, shining (showy solo dancing).


Other names: beygele, redl

Time signature: 2/4 or 4/4

Mood: happy

Tempo: medium to fast depending, on fitness of the dancers!

Also written as: freilachs, freylachs, fraelachs, freilach

Khosidl

A solo khosidl, explained by Zev Feldman (US)

Khosidl

A solo or community dance with a spiritual element, or a piece danced by, or in imitation of, the khasidim.


Time signature: 2/4 or 4/4

Mood: reflective

Tempo: slow to medium

Also written as: chusidl, chused'l, khosid

Patsh (clapping) Tants

A patsh tants, led by Andreas Schmitges (Germany) at Yiddish Summer Weimar

Patsh (clapping) Tants

The dance generally includes circling, clapping & stamping and can also have a partner change. The melodies reflect the clapping element. 


Time signature: 2/4 or 4/4

Also written as: patsch tanz

Also called: plyeskun

Other versions: khotinskaya, dybbuk patsh

Sher

A sher, led by Hélène Domergue-Zylberberg (France)

Sher

A square dance with a chorus and figures, including solo elements. The dance goes on for a long time! Melodies are medium tempo, with spirit. The melodies are strings of freylekhs-style tunes, with sections of 8, 10 or 16 bars.


Time signature: 2/4 or 4/4

Also written as: scher, scheir

Also called: scheir quadrile

Another version: sherele

Zhok

Demo of a zhok with Steve Weintraub, Avia Moore, Zev Feldman and Hélène Domergue-Zylberberg

Zhok

A graceful circle or chain dance. The rhythm comes on the first and third beats of the bar, and there is a limping feel (slow-quick, slow-quick) that is difficult to convey in musical notation.


Time signature: 3/8 or 3/4, less often 6/8

Also written as: joc

Also called: slow hora, Romanian hora