Helen's Yiddish Dance Page
Dances of The Jews of Eastern Europe

דף ריקודי יידיש של הלן
ריקודים של יהודי מזרח אירופה


 Yizkor Book Translation  Can you help?

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Research Cafe with Judith Cohen,
March, 2006
See pics from
Weintraub /Winkler
Yiddish Dance Workshop

Toronto, July 2005

See Pics from OFDA Cafe
Toronto, May 2005

Moishe Dancing with Michael Wex????
Resource Page
Dance Descriptions 
Dance Stories 
Klezzing in the Peg 

Yizkor Book Translation

Cantors' Database


     Mayn Freylekhs un Mayn Sher

     A Polka, a Hopke, a stately Quadrille
     Let every person dance what they will...
     For me, the Sher that my father danced
     In childhood will do...
     Or, in step with both generations
     Even a Freylekhs or two!

Yiddish dancing at Ashkenaz 2008
Photo By Dina Roginsky

1After Motl Talalyevsky, Mayn Freylekhs un Mayn Sher, Chana Mlotek, "Concerning a Convicted Soviet-Jewish Poet," Forverts, Sept. 19-25, 2008; translation by Joseph A. Levine, "Yiddish Dance Songs,"
Journal of Synagogue Music, Fall 2010

Introduction or Why I Decided to do This Page
I have been involved in international and Israeli folk dancing for a long time. I was aware that Israeli dances sometimes had Eastern European/Chasidic influence. That's where my knowledge ended. One day, while I was reading about Chasidic dance as part of preparation for my Canadian Dance Teacher's Association exam, I came upon a statement to the effect that Patsh Tanz was a traditional wedding dance used to welcome new brides into the fold of married women. It was like they say "Columbus discovered America" for me. Did this mean that there were traditional Jewish folk dances in Eastern Europe that were associated with the wedding ritual? Thanks to the internet, I found out about a book by Nathan Vizonsky that described a number of these dances. Thanks to the Jewish-Music internet discussion group, I met some people who are also interested in our dance heritage and referred me to other references and experts in the field. This web page explains what I have found so far. 

I welcome comments, links and dance descriptions from other like-minded individuals. You may ask, why did this dance form almost disappear from the Jewish community. To be honest, it did not actually disappear. Chasidic Jews continue to do their own version of traditional dances (but even their dances are changing e.g. women's simkhe dances). However, for the rest of us I think it's safe to say that the dances did virtually disappear (except for a modern rendition of the freylekhs). The most tragic reason for this is the holocaust; the communities where the dances were done were destroyed as were the people. Those that were left assimilated into modern society. The state of Israel was created, drawing attention to a new and vibrant Israeli folk dance culture.

The decline of klezmer music and dance in America is explored in an article by Zev Feldman. He points out that klezmer music was marginalized by the Jewish community and was never supported by Jewish institutions such as schools and synagogues. Without this support the music could not survive very long in the transplanted Jewish community. Because more secular values were adopted by American Jews, the community also actually chose to discard traditional dances that had previously been associated with orthodox Jewish weddings.

However, klezmer is with us again, revived and revitalized, as they say. Who can sit still when listening to this fantastic music? You have to dance. There is a beautiful simplicity to traditional dances like the freylekhs, that welcomes everyone to join in, regardless of age, virtuosity or experience. It's time to bring these dances back into our lives, to celebrate together, to enjoy. It is a testament to the resilience of the Jewish people that we are still here, and we are still dancing.
A Cautionary Note
If you read about shtetl dances or watch old Yiddish movies, you will come to realize  that the dances usually involved a good deal of improvisation; i.e. they weren't choreographed dances. You will also notice that the dance descriptions in all of the folk dance books are choreographed to suit the recreational dance setting. The dances now being taught at the klezmer dance workshops tend to be more like the shtetl versions. Hopefully there will soon be videos and books that reflect this. Perhaps some of you out in cyber land would like to write descriptions of how you do these dances in your groups.

As with all folk dancing, the best way to learn the dances is from someone who knows how to do them rather than using a cookbook approach. The difficulty remains that not everyone can attend the workshops for financial/geographical reasons. So, here is a place to start learning. Hopefully, some day, these dance traditions will once again be passed down the generations within each community.

The dance descriptions I have found are not specific as to region or shtetl. At the present time I donít have this information. In all likelihood there were variations but we may never know exactly-the shtetls were destroyed and their few remaining residents were scattered all over the world. These are only bits and pieces of the whole puzzle.


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