Guess what? It’s wednesday and I really hope we all know what that means! Today we are going to be going way WAY back into the history of Israeli dance once again in order to find the origins and influences of many of the dances we do today. Last week we spoke about the fast paced and upbeat Hora, but this week we are going to be focusing on another style of Israeli dance, which we like to call “Hasidic style”.
The Hasidim are first of all Orthodox Jews. They believe that the Torah, the five books of Moses, is the literal word of God, and that carrying out this word is what gives meaning and purpose to life. For Orthodox Jews, this means following all of the 613 commandments found in the Torah that are still practiceable with complete devotion . These positive and negative commandments govern ritual and ethical obligations, and concern the Jew’s relationship to God, to other people, and to animals.
The Hasidim differ from other Orthodox Jews in several ways. The core of Hasidism is enthusiasm and mysticism, an interest in inner transformative experience, connection with God and others. This core of Hasidism is evident throughout not only the religious rituals, but also through other cultural aspects, such as song and dance.
Songs, for example, originating from the first branch of Hasidim, are generally more ecstatic. They are called the rikud type, luring one to dance. Hasidim think of dance as an integral part of life, an act that permits every part of the body to serve God. Rikud songs are sometimes repeated for several hours until the dancers and singers are exhausted, or a new melody is introduced. These songs are sometimes, at a wedding for example, accompanied by Klezmer musicians, otherwise known as violinists, clarinetists or other traditional Jewish instrumentalists.
Although Israeli dance is practiced by both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, Hasidic dance is specifically characterized by Ashkenazi Jews. Among Ashkenazi Jews dancing to klezmer music was an integral part of weddings in the small Jewish ghettos. Jewish dance was influenced by local non-Jewish dance traditions, but there were clear differences, mainly in hand and arm motions, with more intricate legwork by the younger men. The religious community frowned on mixed dancing, dictating separate circles for men and women.
In Hasidism, dance is a tool for expressing joy and is believed to have a therapeutic effect: It purifies the soul, promotes spiritual elation and unifies the community. This belief of purifying soul and unifying community is portrayed in our local Jewish communities today, especially in the dance departments. In the Bamachol Dance department, Hasidic dance has been adapted into a choreographed dance, distinguished by intricate legwork, and enthusiastic and joyful movements. Many different adaptations of Hasidic dance are out in the open; everyone has the ability to make it their own and make it its best.