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Dancing at a Simcha - 1/30/2008

If you can not convince them, confuse them. ~ Harry Truman

If you have not yet been asked to entertain a group of people with your Israeli Dancing knowledge, you surely will be soon enough.

Nigun A Tik and Yesh Lanu Tayish are sure winners for every occassion. What else you choose to do depends on your circumstances.

Recently a friend asked a couple of us to organize dancing at a celebration she was throwing. Our approach was somewhat different than usual and worked well. Maybe it will give you some ideas. Here is our story.

Libby is a physicist. She said, "Can you show people how to do the hora. When you go to weddings and bar mitzvahs, the dancing is so disorganized that people do not know what to do. I hate that. Can you organize the dancing so there is some order. You will have thirty minutes."

That would be a challenge.

Libby had hired a wonderful Klezmer band. We had about 150 people to entertain in a medium size room.

Julianna and I started with Nigun A Tik to get people going and give everyone a postive feeling of success. This is a wonderful dance, because the music and choreography let even the newest dancers experience a strong sense of place and style.

The event was a simcha and Freilechs are traditional at simchas. Dancing is supposed to be somewhat chaotic and improvisational, while having a group comaraderie.

So rather than trying to teach specific Israeli Dances, we taught the people some basic principles of group dancing, and made up things as we went along.

Here is how.

First we had the band prepare songs only in 4/4 time.

We got everyone together holding hands, in a few concentric circles, because we had a big group.

One of us was on the microphone. The other was in the center circle leading, and we were fortunate enough to have another experienced dancer Arlene helping out.

We instructed the people that all the dances we were going to do would be in 4/4 time and what that meant.

We told them we were going to teach them a small set of patterns that would all be in 4s. They were to follow the leader and do what she did.

We instructed them not to worry about what foot they were on or whether they were doing the steps right. This was supposed to be a bit chaotic and we would be making things up.

First they should pay attention to safety, courtesy and comfort. Do not hurt themselves or anyone else. Do not pull, push or grab anyone when holding hands. Do not try to help your neighbor or try to get them to do the right thing. Do not hang on. Everyone holds hands and moves by their own choice. Enjoy themselves.

As far as the steps were concerned, they should only worry about orientation. They should not look down and try to follow feet. They need to maintain good posture. The feet are for moving the body and will take care of themselves. They should just try to make sure they were going in the right direction and staying next to the people on either side of them.

This might seem like a lot of information before we get to the steps, but once we laid the groundwork above, the steps were easy. Once we have gotten everyone with the right attitude, the dancing takes care of itself.

The two big problems we are trying to avoid are (1) people applying force to one another, by pulling and pushing, and (2) people looking down, having bad posture, being off balance and being unable to orient themselves.

Now the steps.

We started with walking four steps, then swaying four. Walk four, sway four, walk four, sway four like Tzaddik Katamar. We kept to one direction for a substantial distance, then changed directions and repeat.

Same with walk inside and outside. Walk in four, sway four, walk back four, sway four.

We added a variation with step and touch, step and touch, like Nigun A Tik.

We added styling options. Hands up, hands down. Snapping fingers like Nigun A Tik. When going inside ladies hold their skirts, men hold their tallit.

We showed them a simple, slow, turn in 4, styling like a Chassid with hands going up and down. Think of Tsur Chassidi.

Make up and add steps and styling that you like. Obviously a mayim is one choice. You can add little kicks or hops, a series of cross in fronts or cross behinds, rocking forward and back, or even do the basic hora step.

Add different styling, both hands to one side and then the other, oriental hand motions, greek head motions looking opposite to line of dance and back or whatever you fancy.

If you have trouble, think of taking simple bits from different Israeli dances.

The trick is to pick movements that express the music.

At appropriate times, after giving the people a little material, we had the band play a song and we all danced.

One of the three of us took turns leading and improvising, with the other two taking up posts at strategic spots on the center circle. We played off one another, giving each other ideas of different things to do, while everyone else followed along.

This was a big hit and everyone had a great time.

The idea of this approach was inspired by Sassoon, a fellow Israeli Dancer with a big personality, who would take charge and improvise dancing at community events. I would try to do my part by taking up a position opposite him and giving support to my side of the circle.

Go have some fun and improvise some dancing.

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