Modern Klezmer dance or Yiddish dance (the terms are interchangeable) comes from the celebration dances, particularly associated with weddings, of the Jews of the Pale of Settlement. (This refers to the parts of Eastern European countries in which Jews were permitted to reside from 1805, an area which stretched from Poland and the Baltic Sea to the Ukraine.) Klezmer dance is associated with Klezmer music and Yiddish song which are all aspects of a Jewish secular culture which is nonetheless deeply rooted in the religious vocal tradition, music and dancing.

mapjewsettlementIn the late 19th and early 20th centuries  political and economic unrest led to pogroms, attacks and massacres of the Jews in the Pale, resulting in a wave of emigration west into Germany, Western Europe and the Americas, both North and South. As they emigrated they took with them their customs and traditions, including the dances and their associated tunes, so that, initially, these dances continued in the new Jewish communities.

Over time, however, Klezmer music and dance went ‘out of fashion’ as the immigrant communities changed, assimilating and developing different cultural expressions. The Holocaust then decimated the communities of the ‘old country’, along with their cultural traditions. By the mid-20th century the traditional culture had almost disappeared and whilst Klezmer music and Yiddish song survived on recordings, in books and notation, the dances were remembered only in a few small communities and in the memories of the older Jewish population.

xdancingjewszstryjenska-jpg-pagespeed-ic-dounzsqvdeIt was in the 1970s that interest began to revive, first in the music (at this point acquiring the name Klez
mer) and then in the dance repertoire.  This revival slowly gathered momentum in the States, and across into Western Europe and Britain. An important element of the revival was the enthusiastic and active research into archives and learning from those who still held the heritage in their experiences and memories.
Another key element of the revival was the creation of residential festivals such as Klezkamp in the US and later Klezfest in the UK which enabled exponents of the Klezmer dance style, such as Michael Alpert, to share their knowledge and experience and inspire a new generation of dancers. All forms of Yiddish culture, including dance, also received the invigorating stimulus from the opening up of the Eastern Bloc in the late 1980’s which allowed contact with the remnant pockets of Jewish culture that had survived the Communist years.

The Dances

Freylekhs are ‘social dances’, open to everyone from toddlers to the elderly. Many of the steps are simple – a walking step or ‘slip-step’ in circles, lines and spirals – since the essence of the dance is in the spirit of the music, rather than in complicated steps. A Freylekhs also contains within the circle the opportunity for ‘Shining’ – a time to leave the group for an improvised dance in the centre, solo or in a couple, re-joining the group when the structure of the dance demands it.

More complicated are the Hora, Khosidl and Honga, which have very simple steps with a few variations, whilst continuing with the circles, lines and spirals. Another line dance is the Bulgar.  This step, with variations, is very well known, common to almost every country in Eastern Europe.

More complex again are the couples dances, the Patsh Tanz, a progressive clapping dance; and the Couples Bulgar with two couples dancing together, before moving on to dance with another couple.

There are also dances, or variations of the dances, that were absorbed into the Yiddish dance repertoire from the host cultures, for example Kolomeyke, Korobushka, and Troika. Other dances include the Square Freylekhs and the two quadrilles, Runde and the Sher, the most complicated of the dances requiring sets of four couples for each set and lasting over fifteen minutes before repeating.

According to the times, locality and cultural norms, the dances may be danced in mixed or single sex groups.

At KlezNorth

bridge320At KlezNorth we give all participants the opportunity to experience the basic dances and reflect on how the tunes might best be played. For those participants with a particular interest in dance we offer a series of Dance workshops.  One workshop may concentrate on basic repertoire; others may focus on the Yiddish dance style, on a particular dance or on dance leading. Anyone with or without dancing experience is welcome to any of the workshops which will each stand alone. There will also be dancing each evening and in the finale on Sunday morning. A little more detail of the individual workshops will be in the final programme sent to participants.

There is normally a visiting dance expert leading dance workshops and you will also meet other dance leaders across the weekend.  Amongst the dance workshops you will be able to enjoy the renowned “dance walk” exploring the glorious outdoors of Youlgrave

Dance Videos

Klezmer Dance / Yiddish Tants

A Guided Tour of Klezmer/Yiddish Dance on YouTube

(Research and notes by Judith Plowman)

Steve Weintraub at KlezKanada 2009 Hora, and then a Freylekhs with a little ‘Couples’ Shining’ at the very end. ‘Couples’ Shining’ continues, back into a Freylekhs. And a lovely example of a ‘Casting sequence’ (Polonaise) that goes ‘wrong’, and then how to successfully recover the Casting followed by a Line Bulgar (in a circle), finishing with a Shining Freylekhs. Couples Bulgar (moving to a new couple each time through the dance (instead of after both the man and the woman have had their turns of crossing over within the Set). At about 5 mins in there is a ‘display spot’ with Michael Alpert (tall and maroon shirt) and Avia Moore (white dress and long black hair). Couples Bulgar continues, (beware the numerous errors various couples make). At 2.04 Michael Alpert dancing stylishly Lovely ‘Couples Shining’ freylekhs, first a virtuoso display from Michael Alpert and Avia Moore, then more Shining in Couples, but of varied creativity and ability.

Steve Weintraub in Krakow 2010 Line Freylekhs Hora variation Couples ‘Shining’ in a freylekhs, some nice ‘set pieces’ Find Judy Sherwood and Phil Tomlinson, from Wirksworth and of The Klatsh, in the above clips!

Steve Weintraub ‘Threading the Needle’ to a Freylekhs. On this occasion the threading has started at the arch at the far end. It will work just as easily starting from the first arch at the front. It is important that the the Freylekhs should be circling in an anti-clockwise direction and then that the Leader too, turns to their own Left (ie also anticlockwise) to find the first arch (be it the arch at the far end, or the arch immediately beyond the person next to the Leader). Traditionally ‘Threading the Needle’ is the final move of the ‘Sher’, and should be led out by ‘Woman No. One’.

Steve Weintraub 2009 The Workman’s Circle Sher (incorrectly labelled as the Brooklyn Sher ) and with the correct ending too. However in this clip, it is only runs once through the Men’s and the Women’s moves. Another demo of the Workman’s Sher, a version of the Sher.

Steve Weintraub A seamless demonstration of how to ‘lift’ your dancers from their seats into a line Freylekhs, followed by a Tunnel, and then ‘Dip and Dive’. They are followed by a big ‘Square Freylekhs’ with suggested moves, cued by Steve. A children’s interlude of ‘Dish Spinning’, then a ‘conga’ line.

Steve Weintraub & Avia Moore at Weimar 2009 ‘Pas de Span’ / ‘Pas d’Espagne’ / ‘Padespan’ ~ the original dance behind the ‘Klezmer Waltz’. It was danced in high class society in Eastern Europe during the Napoleonic Wars. ‘Pas d’Espagne’ Demo and then a breakdown of the step and moves, Steve Weintraub and Avia Moore, finishing with the Summer School display.

Practise session:

Steve Weintraub & Avia Moore at Weimar 2009 ‘Dybbuk Patsh Tanz’ ~ Demo; with an illustrious cast! Recreated/Choreographed by Steve Weintraub to a Belf (1912) tune ~ Khotinskaya ~ using the dance moves from the film ‘The Dybbuk’. The dancers ~ Zev Feldman (light trousers; Steve Weintaub (white short-sleeved shirt/black trousers); Andreas Schmitges (green shirt); Helene Domergue (black floral skirt); Avia Moore (short red dress); Aysa Vaisman (turquoise top/brown skirt) display very different but authentic ‘Shining’ moves and styles ~ an education! ‘Yiddish Troika’ ‘Boyeresca’‘Shining’ Practice

Steve Weintraub at KlezKamp 2009 ‘Dybbuk Patsh Tanz’ ~ Steve Weintraub (Dress Suit and white Gloves), Andreas Schmitges (bright Red Shirt)

Andreas Schmitges (Dance leader, Germany) at Weimar 2007 Traditional ‘Patsh Tanz’ , dancing as couples in a promenade hold (or ‘Skaters’ hold) as a variant.

Erik Bendix at Weimar 2008 ‘Korobushka’ a Russian folk dance absorbed into Yiddish dance, demonstrated by Erik Bendix and Helene Domergue-Zylerberg

Helene (Khahele) Domergue-Zylerberg, 2007 (Dance Leader, France)

On board the ‘Dnieper Princess’ riverboat during the Klezmer Heritage Cruise of the Ukraine, organized by the Dolgin Family. Sher Once, and a bit through….. Line Bulgar Hora Freylekh

Zev Feldman  Slow Bulgar Demo at Weimar

Steve Weintraub at Weimar 2009 Couples Bulgar Demo Steve Weintraub [white shirt/black trousers], Avia Moore [red dress], Andreas Schmitges [lime green shirt] and Helene Domergue [black top/floral skirt] into the general dance class.

Zev Feldman Weimar, Line Bulgars, slow, medium and fast

Steve Weintraub at KlezKamp 2006

http:/ Some ‘Shining’ moves.

Andreas Schmitges and Helene Domergue at Weimar 2009 Freylekhs Tunnelling and Dip and Dive

Steve Weintraub at Weimar 2011 Getting a ‘Square Freylekhs’ going, with a ‘Dish-Spinning’ interlude! Weimar 2011 A somewhat ‘odd’ series of about 15 clips. The Stern (Star) Polka is also taught. ‘Runde’ danced to the traditional German tune, as opposed to the Klezmer tune ‘Der Mama Iz Gegangen’.

Steve Weintraub Social dancing at KlezKanada 2012 with Frank London, Christian Dawid. Freylekhs with individual shining. A variation on the Square Freylekhs, using the Band Instruments/ Instrumentalists for the arm gestures.

Steve Weintraub at Klezkamp 2009 Philadelphia Sher  A Klezmer/Yiddish dance ‘called’ from the side ( and

Steve Weintraub Toronto 2008 with Michael Alpert, Avia Moore & Guy Shalom

Weimar 2009 ‘Pirinica’ ~ the Moldavian ‘structured’ form of the Tichele Tanz.

Steve Weintraub Cracow 2006 Bottle dance; also Sher with Michael Alpert, Helene (Khahele) Domergue-Zylerberg

Michael Alpert

Zev Feldman

Steve Weintraub Ashkanaz Festival, Toronto 2010

Weimar 2009 Moldavian Circle Dance of Sirba Karapiet –  Andreas Schmitges listed this as a shared/ cosmopolitan Yiddish dance at Klezfest London.

Finally just an inspiring piece of choreography!

Other useful websites/links:

Cartoon of Sher moves Asya and Shura Vaisman; the audio track “Russian Sher “is from the Klezmer Conservatory Band “Thirteenth Anniversary Album”

Steve Weintraub

Helen Winkler’s Yiddish Dance Pages

Yiddish, Klezmer, Ashkanazic or ‘Shtetl’ Dances