For the next few Wednesdays we are going to be going way WAY back into the history of Israeli dance in order to find the origins and influences of many of the dances we do today. Like all other aspects of culture, dance is not the result of one culture on its own but rather the interaction of many cultures. Without the exchange of ideas between distinct cultures, there would be no variety or inspiration; thus, ideas would remain bland and would not be able to come to life as imagined.
Israeli dance is a melting pot of cultures, which accepts ideas from an abundant variety of cultures and countries in order to embellish Israeli Folk dancing and maximize its potential. The concoction of cultures including Yemenite, Chasidic, Romanian, Moroccan, Ethiopian, Arabic, and Russian creates a very unique dance style, which contains many discrete subcategories: one of them being the Hora.
Because the word “Hora” is typically characterized with Israeli dance, let’s ask ourselves where does the word “hora” itself come from? Certainly not from Yiddish, and certainly not from Hebrew, either. After all, the hora was not a Jewish dance at all until it traveled in the early 20th century to Palestine from Romania, where Zionist pioneers, or halutzim, adopted it.
“Hora” comes from ancient Greek khoros, which also gives us such words as “chorus” and “choir.” Traditional circle dances deriving their names from khoros can be found all over the Balkans and southeastern Europe. They include the Turkish and Romanian hora, the Bulgarian horo, the Montenegrin and Macedonian ora, and the Russian khorovod, and they are all very old and highly similar in the way they are danced.
The first “Jewish” hora — that is, the first hora introduced into Palestine — was composed and choreographed by Romanian Jewish dancer Baruch Agadati, who got together in 1924 with a composer and writer of lyrics and created a hora for a show put on by the Ohel Theater Company, which toured with it in the pioneering settlements of the Valley of Jezreel. “Hora Agadati,’ as it became known, was an instant hit.
Within a short time, more and more Hebrew hora songs were being written. Danced by halutzim, they became a symbol of their capacity for joyousness despite their regime of hard work and ascetic living. In its halutzic version, the hora was done at a whirling, breakneck pace, each dancer’s arms around the shoulders of those flanking him, the circle spinning so fast that its members were sometimes lifted clear off the ground, the dancing often continuing for hours on end. In an entirely unintended fashion, the trancelike, almost religious devotion with which it was performed returned it to its ancient, primitive roots.
As the Hora was integrated into American Jewish culture, it began to establish distinguishing qualities from that of ancient times. Eventually the Hora evolved into a type of choreographed dance, which is very fast paced and upbeat. The Hora is typically characterized by repeated constant movements between moving to the right and left; jumps, turns, shafta mayims (grapevine step), and cherkessias are also common steps found in Horas. As you can see Horas are not so easy as they seem, so if you want a culture rich dance, which will keep your heart rate up, while simultaneously giving you a good work out, the Hora is the right dance for you!