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Dancing this holiday at the Simchat Beit Hashoeva, in the ring of brotherhood on the guy’s side of the synagogue, I felt at home. My hands were on my friend’s shoulders and I was walking around in a circle. Jews dance in a circle, by walking. I can’t wait for Simchat Torah, when I have the chance to walk in circle form, again.
The Simchat Torah ‘Two Handed Torah Lift Carry Torah Touch’ is an exciting dance move, but it is nothing without the circle. All Jewish parties (Simchas), Bar Mitzvahs, Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, Friday nights when we want prayers to last longer, the dance is in circle form. Because that is how Jews dance, in a circle. It is the people walking that make for the Jewish dance.
Side note: We will not deal with the Middle of the Circle. Do not go in here, until you have mastered the outside circle. It is dangerous in there.
As diverse as the dancing may be, the circle is the root; the circle of community, the outside circle of love. Here are the different outside circles of Jewish tradition and dance:
Two Handed Shoulder Hold
A classic. You can never go wrong following the person in front of you, unless if that person is an Apikores. You place your arms on their shoulders and follow. Wherever they go, you go. It starts in the circle and will usually end in a circle. Sometimes, it will turn into the ‘Train.’ Other times, it will be to the bar. No matter what, you can’t go wrong by holding the guy's shoulders. This dance is also very useful for those who do not have good balance. For those people, I suggest to brace yourself on the shoulders of the person in front of you very tightly.
If the dance leads you to the bar or pole, duck. This is why you should always have your eyes open, even when doing the Two Handed Shoulder Hold.
The Hand in Hand
Intimate circle, where hands are held. Another classic. You generally want to join one of these circles with members of your immediate family. Front person should always have their hand on top. Don't make the one leading you supinate their hand. Dancing is not a power game, where you’ve always got the upper hand position on both sides. Don't ruin the enjoyment and make the ring of brotherhood and sisterhood a circle of contorted hands, so that you can feel like you're leading in a new dance where you are the king. It's not about you. It's about the community. You're just causing discomfort, and that makes the whole dancing not fun.
Front person has the upper hand position, always. Circles move faster that way. And be ready for to flip your hands if the circle ever switches directions. Hand placement is the key to any Simcha. Happiness depends on how you hold hands. If your follower ever tries to connect to your hand from above, smack it. I've seen too many of these egotistical Baal Gayvas causing communal hatred.
One Hand Shoulder Hold
Where you put one hand on the shoulder. This shows the versatility of the shoulder dance genre. You can go from two to one hand. This dance allows for more flexibility, as the hand that is free can be raised. Possibilities are endless with the shoulder holds.
No matter what you do, you should always end up in a circle. Even if you go for a forward impromptu step, always fun, you come back to the circle. Like life, the Jewish dance always come back to the circle.
Upper Back Hold
This is a variation on the shoulder hold dances. This dance is very useful when you are having a hard time reaching the person in front of you. Generally, this dance is done with the palm on the back. Even so, I have seen it executed with fingers, when the circle was too large and the Simcha was not well attended.
The Run Fast
You run fast in a circle. You don’t need to be talented for this, but you do need to be in shape. Be ready for your arm to be pulled out of socket by the guy in front of you. Check to make sure there’s a doctor at this Jewish event before you get involved The Run Fast.
Please know that this is a more advanced movement. For those depending on the guy in front of them for balance, this can be dangerous. Note: Circling may make you dizzy, but I trust you'll get used to it. Start slow.
The Leg Lift
Popularized in the mid-90s, this is where you lift your leg every couple of steps. Kind of like the kick, many people have gotten injured doing this. I suggest to stick to the ‘Two Handed Shoulder Hold’ and walking. Safety comes first. Basically, any dance where you're holding hands can cause injury. With the arms on the shoulders, kicking ability is hampered and that is good.
Do not try to be fancy and kick out to the sides, as that can cause injury to others. For yourself, you will want to stretch before side to sider kicks as well.
Remember, safety is the most important aspect of all dances, which is why you should watch out for any movement. Any dance that involves movement should be avoided. And do not think for one second that you are dancing to burn calories from the smorgasbord. You can’t burn off that much pastry.
Next time, we will delve into the Hora styles of not moving while you dance. We will also explore more outside circle techniques, such as how to pick your spot and when to cut into a circle, how to execute the Hassidic Back Forth Tish arm step, how to get in shape for the circle run for weddings of those in their young 20s, how to stand and clap outside the circle, proper etiquette for when to get the circle to change directions by yelling ‘switch,’ and what to do when the ‘train’ starts or the person in front of you pulls you away from the circle, pulling you away from your Jewish heritage.
As long as your hands are placed correctly, you should be good. Holding techniques take time, but you will get them down if you're persistent. Trust in yourself. For now, work on becoming the best Jewish dancer you can be this Simchat Torah, and practice walking.
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