Jewish folk dancing is a form of dance usually performed to music from Jewish people, with dances choreographed for specific songs.
Most Jewish dances are performed in a circle, although there are also partner dances and line dances.
Israeli Folk Dancing
The Jews have a long dance history. The Bible and Talmud refer to many events related to dance, and contain over 30 different dance terms.
Jewish folk dances were created as way of creating a new Israeli culture on the land of Palestine , combining elements from other dance cultures with the music and themes of modern Israel (Occupied Palestine). Most of the dances could be danced by young and old, and celebrated the pioneering spirit. Others were created for professional or semi-professional performing dance groups.
Israeli folk dancing is a popular recreational activity in Israel and has also spread over time to other countries around the world.
Rivka Sturman, who immigrated to Palestine in 1929, observed that children were being taught German songs in kindergarten and decided it was important for them to have songs and dances that reflected the culture of their own country. She joined a newly formed organization sponsored by the Histadrut that devoted itself to the creation of folk dances. Sturman, who had a background in modern dance, became one of the most prolific folk dance choreographers in the country. From 1942 to 1983, she created, taught, and performed more than 90 dances, many of which are considered Israeli classics.
In 1944, Gurit Kadman organized a First Fruits dance pageant to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Shavuot at Kibbutz Dalia. That same year, she organized the first folk dance festival at the kibbutz, which became a regular event.
Like many types of European folk dance and country-western line dancing in the U.S., each Israeli folk dance has a fixed choreography (sequence of steps) and is danced to a specific piece of music. The yotzer, or choreographer, selects a piece of music, usually Israeli, and arranges a set of steps to fit with that music. The formation of the dance might be a circle, or perhaps couples, or trios or short lines. Or it might be a group/line formation as in country-western line dancing. A dance's tempo may be fast or slow.
The movements themselves are varied, in many cases drawing on older Jewish and non-Jewish folk dance traditions. Major folk influences include the Hora, which is originally a Romanian folk dance form, the Temani, Atari, the Hasidic (Eastern European Jewish) dance tradition, and other Eastern European folk dance traditions. There are many debka-type Israeli folk dances; the debka is originally a Bedouin folk dance form. Some dances show primarily a single influence. For example, the dances Hora Chadera (1972) and Eretz, Eretz (1974) hearken back to the Hasidic dance tradition. Some dances combine elements from multiple folk dance traditions, or from folk and non-folk sources. The dance Ma Navu (1956) combines folk dance influences (e.g., the Yemenite step) with movements from ballet. Some Israeli dances -- this is more common in the newer dances -- have few if any folk elements. Prime examples are Yo Ya and Zodiak, which are done in disco format (i.e., with all dancers facing in the same direction) and have movements almost entirely from jazz dance; purists might consider such dances stylistically outside the limits of folk dance.
Yemenite dancing is based on the Yemenite step (Tza'ad Temani), a dance move consisting of a three-step sequence executed in place with a short pause on the final step ("quick, quick, slow"). The step can be done to the right, left, forward and back.
The hora is a circle dance that predates the State of Israel. It was introduced here by Baruch Agadati in 1924. Adapted from the Romanian hora, it has become an icon of Jewish and Israeli folk dance. It can be performed to many of the traditional klezmer and Israeli folk songs, and is typically danced to the music of Hava Nagila. This is the most common dance done at Jewish life cycle joyous events such as weddings and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.
In its pioneer version, the hora was done at a whirling, breakneck pace. Each dancer's arms were around the shoulders of those flanking him, with the circle spinning so fast that dancers were sometimes lifted off the ground. The dancing often continued for hours.
Notable Israeli Choreographers
Jewish folk dancing glossary
Yemenite Dances and their influence on the new Jewish folk dances
History of Israeli Dance