One of my favourite ways of learning about the flavour of Yiddish dances, is to search through Yizkor books, to find personal accounts of the dances. The sher is frequently mentioned and below, I have included some interesting sections.
Then followed the dinner – after that, more dancing. And now a guest would ask the musicians
to play a kozatzka or a kamarsky dance or a sher (a square dance) and put a couple of coins in
the plate. The square dance was unlike the kind we see here, a barn dance with a caller. Instead,
everyone in the circle told everyone else what to do, and nobody knew which way to turn. Each
one danced his own way. As long as people kept dropping coins in the plate the band kept on
playing. When it was all over the band leader would count out the money. Generally there
would be about ten or fifteen rubles. In case of a rich wedding, there could be twenty or twentyfive
--from Mother’s Father: A Special Man
By Max Trachtman
This story was printed in “Family Chronicles” published in West Lafayette, Indiana, by a group of related families, in or around 1980. Based on the memoir, it seems this wedding took place in the early 1870s.
The Zambrów Yizkor Book
The English Translation
Courtesy of the United Zembrover Society
Copyright © 1963 by the United Zembrover Society, Inc. of New York, NY, USA.
From My Childhood World
By Yom-Tov Levinsky
20 Kopikehs Kost a Sherl (1901-1911 according to the memoir)
Boys and girls, at a wedding, would dance the ‘Sher’ (a shereleh), and pay the musicians twenty kopecks for playing it. Little boys, from underneath the window, would sing:
Tsvantsik kopikehs kost a sherl
Doss iz dokh gantz tyer!
Az a bokher tantst mit a maedel
Brennt in ihm a fyer!
The Sher costs twenty kopecks
This is rather expensive!
[But]when a boy dances with a girl
A fire burns inside of him!
The Book of Klezmer: The History, The Music, The Folklore from the 14th century to the 21st, by Yale Strom.
Editor: Yuval Taylor. Chicago,IL : A Cappella, 2002.DUBNO (P) Dubno; Sefer Zikaron (Dubno; A Memorial to the Jewish Community of Dubno, Wolyn*). By A. Boxer (Ben-Arjeh). Ed.: S. Eisenberg. Haifa, 1962. (Yiddish) "Jewish Weddings and Klezmorim," by Moshe Katchke, pp. 665-71. (Yiddish)
Up until World War I, the following dances were popular in Dubno: The quadrille, which was for four couples and cost four kopeks. The dance lasted about fifteen minutes and the tempo was slow. The sherele, which was danced by many couples cost ten kopeks per couple. It started slowly and ended up in a strong gallop. The freylekhs was usually danced with one couple at a time, a man with his wife or two from the same sex. Sometimes four lined up, one across from the other. When the music began, one person would dance specific steps and figures opposite the other. Their hands were held down by their sides and they moved from side to side, back and forth. The dance lasted until one fell from fatigue. Then the other partner would grab hold of his tired partner's hands and they would begin to dance together with each other's hand on each of their shoulders, to the freylekh. Then the klezmorim would pick up the tempo while the in-laws all began to clap with great appreciation and ardor. Then the women would wave their handkerchiefs in the air, urging on each partner to surpass the other. Such a freylekh cost twenty kopeks. The kozak (kozatchka) cost the same amount. This dance was played for the in-laws and adolescents. The young danced waltzes, such as the Boston waltz, krakowiaks, a lizginka, and the tsherkishn dance, where the dancer held a knife in his hand. This dance received a big noisy applause. The majority of the dances took place before the khupe ceremony.