In the summer there tends to be a lot of weddings. And at Jewish weddings there is often at least one traditional hora or Jewish circle dance. Circle dances are the oldest form of dance, and I don’t mean just for the Jews. Many cultures have them. So, why would people want an ancient dance at their wedding when they are starting out on a fresh new life? Well, to begin with, a little bit of tradition never hurts!
Why are we dancing in circles? I actually think that there is a reason. We have to stay at least somewhat together to dance in a circle. We certainly have to be headed the same direction and be basically at the same tempo or the circle would fall apart. This “sameness” creates a bond. We’re going the same way, at the same speed. Together; friends, relatives and complete strangers. We hold hands and go around and around in a circle going nowhere faster and faster. Yet, we are enjoying ourselves and feeling a connection to something, even if we don’t know exactly what.
In a circle dance you are not matched up with one partner, but are a part of a whole. Perhaps that is the genius of circle dances. You are one link in the circle chain. If you leave the circle, the circle can keep going, but only by getting smaller or bringing someone else in. Either way, you are out. If you do the exact same steps as everyone else outside of the circle, you are not part of the circle. Nor does it feel at all the same to you. The circle may keep going just fine, but you are not a part of it. All of a sudden, you are alone.
In a circle dance, if someone misses a step, the rest of the circle carries them along and pretty soon that person is in step again. No one checks that the circle is kept exactly round. It simply doesn’t matter. Around and around, to the right and then to the left, or to the left and then to the right – it just doesn’t matter. Step by step everyone together. As a whole. No politics, no religion, no small talk, no philosophy, just feeling unified and whole as a community. Everyone adding towards the power of the momentum, creating energy and joy. Yet, we as individuals, are somehow not lost. The whole is what is important in this case, but we very much feel ourselves being a part of that whole – not lost or swallowed up – but a part of something greater than ourselves.
There are some things that we just can’t accomplish by ourselves. No one person can do a circle dance. No one person can have a tradition. (You can start a tradition. But, if you start something and no one else carries it on it hasn’t become a tradition.) For some things you just need other people. Sometimes they are similar to you and other times not, but they matter in what you want to accomplish.
I think that having a hora at a Jewish wedding is a form of identification. It shows that there is some feeling of connection to the person’s Jewishness. The dance draws out a pride we may not even know that we have. Around and around go the years and still we are here. A simple hora step is easy to follow. I’m a lousy dancer, but even I feel comfortable doing the hora. It’s a very easy step to pick up and follow and even if you aren’t doing the traditional hora steps you can still manage to keep up with the circle and not stand out. Looking down from above there is one circle moving around as one unit.
I doubt many people think about it when they are doing a circle dance, but it could be an analogy for life. Each year we start over again, celebrating the same holidays and often doing the same things as the year before. Some circles are a bit fast and some a bit slower, just like the years in our lives.
Each year goes around, but it doesn’t have to be the same as the one before. This year, or this dance, you can become a part of something bigger than you. Even if you don’t normally dance. Try joining in a hora and feel what it is like. Don’t get caught up in your individual steps, but rather in the overall momentum.
So, if you are planning a wedding remember that sometimes modern isn’t better. Even if you only care about the modern dancing, throw in a hora. It can add a whole other dimension to your wedding. Some tradition and a bit of community feeling add a splash of Jewishness into your new union. A sense that everyone is coming together for the new couple. For a new potential. Solidarity in the happiness of life continuing. And if you are attending a wedding with a hora, join in and feel the unity and power of the dance.
And after you finished going around and around, being drawn into the whole, think about what in your life you would like to accomplish as a part of a whole. Where could you benefit from being a part of a community or a more involved part of your community? Remember the unity that you felt in the circle and seek out some more unity within your community.
Marcia Goldlist is a regular contributor of blog postings on Jewish Values Online. She was the author of one of the blog postings selected for theSecond Quarter 5779 Jewish Values Online Best Blogs. .
Please note: All opinions expressed in Blog Postings and comments on the Jewish Values Online site and through Jewish Values Online are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views, thoughts, beliefs, or position of Jewish Values Online, or those associated with it.
Is there such a thing as a Jewish race memory? I have what seems to be an overwhelming identity with Jewishness, yet I was not born a Jew in any sense. My father was the son of a Jewish mother who married out. He never put over Jewish identity within the home apart from his knowledge that he was Jewish. Yet I feel strongly that I ought to convert, and one of my strongest personal ambitions is to celebrate Passover. If you have any personal experience to add to this, I would be grateful. Am I mad to feel such a strong attachment where logically there is none?
See answers from Orthodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis here.
If you have a question about Jewish values that you would like to ask rabbis from multiple denominations, click here
to enter your question. We will ask rabbis on our panel for answers and post them. You can also search
our repository of over 800 questions and answers about Jewish values.
For more great Jewish content, please subscribe in the right-hand column. Once you confirm your subscription, you'll get an email whenever new content is published to the Jewish Values Online blog.