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Yiddish Dance in Yiddish Language and Other Films      Retun to Main Resource Page

 Molly Picon mixing it up with assorted dance styles.


Many films were made during the 1920's 1930's and 1940s for the Yiddish Cinema. Quite often the movies included weddings in which there were dance scenes. According to Michael Alpert's article "Freylekhs on Film..." some of the dances shown were good examples of the actual dance style. Others were more theatrical interpretations. By watching the dance sequences you get an idea of the overall styling and flavour of the dances. What I notice most is how everyone in the freylechs scenes more or less moves in their own way, whether by walking forwards or backwards, doing 2-steps, or literally kicking up their heels; nevertheless, the whole group manages to move as a unit in the same direction and nobody gets hurt!


Also take note of the small spaces used for dance areas. It's virtually in someone's living room with many concentric circles of dancers moving in very close quarters. No air conditioned aerobics studios in the Old Country!

These films have been re-released on DVD with subtitles and can easily be purchased. Some are available on Youtube to view online.

The Dybbuk 1937:
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Eaz_JEHqXM

This famous film contains the following dances:
Chasidic style dance done to a wordless nigun (melody)
Tapping Dance (probably the equivalent of Patch Tanz)
Dance of the Rich
Dance of the Poor
Beggar Dance
Dance of Death--very theatrical http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PHHqclQPsE

Yidl With the Fidl:
This film shows a complete wedding with the accompanying dances. Molly Picon, in her autobiography, explains that the wedding scene
utilized the actual residents of a shtetl (Kazmierz) in Poland. These people were totally confused by the situation since they were unfamiliar with film and could not understand why this wedding was going on for 30 consecutive hours. Also mystifying was the constant replenishment of the food between takes. From this I conclude that the dancing shown must have been the way people really danced in Kazmierz.  You have to watch carefully as the dance sequence is very short and each dance runs into the next one. This film is sometimes available on Youtube.

Dances include:

Koilitch Dance--aka-two women and two challahs. The women sway around with the challahs as the wedding party enters the reception area. This dance does not appear to have any specific steps.

Grandmother's dance--The grandmother dances around a bit and then appears to collapse from the exertion

A set dance of some sort with couples.

Freylekhs--everyone gets into this dance in their own way

Uncle Moses:
This movie also has a wedding in which the freylekhs is featured. I caught a glimpse of women holding large challahs in the room but the women don't look like they are dancing.

The movie is set in America. Note that men and women dance together in the circle.

Mizrekh and Mayrev
Some really nice dance scenes in this movie, though they go by very quickly.  Some examples of
solo improvisation are present. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xwyd_PGVaHA

The Purimshpiler
Although there isn't much in the way of traditional dance in this film, there are some great scenes
of Purim costumes, processions and and a little bit of shpieling.

A Cantor on Trial/Khazan afn Probe
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ppz9WLVfeD4
features some Yiddish dance moves with ragtime music  at the end of the clip.

Americaner Shadchen
A rather nasty song about a bride that does feature some interesting male dancing at the end of the clip. Clip is no longer on Youtube but the DVD is available.

Benya Krik
Clip is no longer on Youtube, but that situation may change.
A silent Russian film about the Jewish underworld.  Features a very wild wedding scene at approx 23 minutes that goes on for 10 minutes.
Here are some screenshots that I captured.

Mir Lebngeblibene
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QxLJilb9yW0
This video and at around 18:10 minutes, features a Hassidic style dance performance by Judith Berg and Felix Fibich.

Seekers of Happiness
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sidk_8glHvE
This Russian language film, 1936, is about Jews who have moved to Birobidzhan.  It features a wedding scene with dancing at 3:01 (2 segments, 2nd segment at 3:43) where there is dancing to the melody of Kuma Echa.  I can't specifically identify the dance but it appears similar in parts, to Zionist youth versions of Krakowiak, according to a friend of mine who participated in those groups years ago.   Kuma Echa is used as theme music in the film as can be evidenced from this clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jHAGwertnU  According to the YIVO encyclopedia, the composer for the film purposely adapted the song:

 “Rybatskaia” (Fisherman’s Song) from the 1936 film Iskateli schast’ia (Seekers of Happiness, about Jewish settlers in the Jewish Autonomous Region of Birobidzhan), which he adapted from the Palestinian Jewish dance song “Kuma ekha” (Arise, Brothers) by Shalom Postolsky (1893–1949)."

For more background on this film see:  http://www.rusfilm.pitt.edu/2006/seekers.htm & Soviet and Kosher by ANNA SHTERNSHIS pp166 ff The recorded song with lyrics is here.

The other song, the  Jewish Komsomol Wedding Song, sung prior to the Kuma Echa sequence is also on Youtube
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--6R-My23mI in a much older recording, and sung in Yiddish.

Video Installation Jewish Wedding--Petersburg Judaica (bottom of page, last frame)
This 23 minute online compilation of Jewish wedding clips from old films, brings together some of the films mentioned above as well as films that I'm unsure as to the titles.  There are quite a few scenes that involve music and dance.  The credits are in Russian and I am trying to find out what the titles of the films are.
So far, I have found out with help from the Jewish Music List that one of the films is called Jewish Luck.
http://judaica.spb.ru/en/expositions/jw.html

Jewish Luck, Russia 1925http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8MaAs2zXll8  this one has a lot of dancing in it and musician scenes, towards the end of the movie.  Around 1hour 31-2 minutes the wedding scene begins and it shows the procession to the khupe with klezmorim leading, and then after the khupe how people dance the wedding party back to the celebration location.  You get to see the 2 women leading off the whole group by dancing in front of the procession, with a throng of dancing people following.  It’s hard to see on a small screen, but I think this film is available on DVD, to get a better view of the dancing.  Interestingly, all of the dancing occurs outdoors, which contradicts Vizonsky, who wrote that Jewish dancing occurred only indoors or hidden in back lanes in the Jewish quarter.  This dancing seems to be happening out in the open in a forest/meadow area.  I wonder if they chose to film the scene outdoors for technical reasons, or if it truly was a typical way to hold a wedding celebration.
Lechaim, Russia, 1910—this one doesn’t really have much dancing in it though it does have sort of an odd wedding ceremony where everyone flaps their hands in the air. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZMmGSSJfEQ (15 minute film in total)