So you think you can’t dance. But have you tried Yiddish dancing?
“People love it. You don’t have to pay as much attention to what your feet are doing, so you can focus more on style,” says Avia Moore, a young Canadian who travels around the world to teach people how to do the Jewish dances of Eastern Europe.
This weekend, as the 27th annual Flurry Festival spins into Saratoga Springs, there’s a dizzying array of dancing, singing and live music for all age groups. Contra, swing, clogging, hip-hop, Irish, Scandinavian and Cajun are just a few of the dance classes on the schedule.
Moore, who is returning to the Flurry as an instructor for a third time, says that Yiddish dancing, in which participants move together in a circle, is less complicated than other folk dances you’ll find at the festival.
“People really like how accessible it is and they also enjoy that it’s quite different from many of the international folk dancing classes,” says Moore. “They are very simple steps but it’s about how we dance as an individual within the community. That’s really what I promote in Yiddish dancing — how to build community through dancing together.”
Two courses offered
Moore will teach two classes — circle dancing and form dancing — and both will have live music by a klezmer duo from New York City playing violin, guitar and mandolin.
As she demonstrates the steps, Moore will talk a little about the history of the dances.
The 27th Flurry festival
WHAT: Dance and music festival for all ages, with more than 400 performers and 250 events
WHEN: Friday, Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Saratoga Springs City Center, Saratoga Hilton Hotel, Saratoga Music Hall in Saratoga Springs City Hall, The Parting Glass Pub and Caffe Lena
HOW MUCH: $25-$95 adults, $15-$65 teen, $20-$85 senior and $1-$3 for children. (Admission is free to Gallery and Pavilion of Saratoga Hilton)
MORE INFO: www.flurryfestival.org. (See video interviews with Yiddish dance instructor Avia Moore at www.yiddishbookcenter.org)
“I think it’s important to understand why we are still dancing them as well as where they come from,” she says.
“Yiddish dancing is roughly the collection of dances danced by Eastern European Jews, mostly prior to World War II.” The dances, which developed between the mid-1800s and mid-1900s, are quite varied because there were religious populations and non-religious populations, and a mix of both, she says.
Moore will call the dances in English, throwing in a bit of Yiddish here and there, and create dance circles that suit the participants.
“For example, the dances can be done in multiple circles, so the outside circle is slower and the inside circle is faster. I really try and create an environment for anyone who wants to dance.”
The circle dances “capture the spirit of dancing as community,” Moore says. “It was a way of bringing community together.”
Capturing life events
These folk dances were celebrations of life events, such as the coming of age, weddings and holidays, she says.
“I find that a lot of people need to learn how to dance as a group. It’s remarkably difficult to keep a circle looking like a circle.”
The Jewish form dances, which are more choreographed, will include the “sher,” a Jewish square dance.
“I particularly love the shers at the Flurry because people there understand square dances and contra dances, so they are very easy to teach. You can go to a square dance class and then come and dance the shers with us to live klezmer music. You really see how all of the dance forms have shared heritage,” Moore says.
“One of my favorite things about the sher is that we don’t know very much about it but we do know that every town probably had its variant of this dance.”
Today, only two or three shers are usually taught because many of the regional variants were lost over time.
“And of course we have very few video recordings. It’s hard to capture in text. We don’t have a lot of records,” she says.
And don’t expect Moore’s dance class to look like the wedding scene from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“There is truth to it, but you have to imagine that everything about it has been heightened by 500 percent. That is a dramatized version of folklore.”
A cultural focus
Because Moore’s focus is culture not religion, she doesn’t separate male and female dancers unless a community requests it.
She does teach the Jewish dance where a man and woman holds the opposite ends of a hankerchief as they move, instead of joining hands.
“That’s because stylistically it’s quite beautiful.”
Moore, who is 31, has taught dance all over North America, in Europe and Russia.
“There’s only a handful of us, really, who teach at an international level in Yiddish dancing. There are many more that teach at local levels,” she says.
Born and raised in British Columbia, Moore is the daughter of a klezmer musician, and her stepmother is a dance caller.
“I’ve been folk dancing as long as I can remember,” she says.
Moore, who holds a bachelor’s degree in drama from the University of Alberta and a master’s in theater from the Darlington College of Arts in England, works as a creative producer for dance, theater and festivals. She lives in New York City.
This weekend, when she’s not teaching Yiddish dance in Saratoga Springs, she’ll be one of the many Canadian contra dancers at the Flurry.
“Lots of Canadians come down to the Flurry from Ontario, Montreal and Ottawa,” she says. “I love it. I can’t wait. I’ve been looking forward to the Flurry for months.”
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
First time at The Flurry?
Avia Moore, who will be teaching Yiddish dance at the Flurry, offers these tips for newbies:
-- "The Flurry can be a little overwhelming because there is so much going on. I recommend grabbing the schedule beforehand and circling what you are interested in, but then once you are there, letting yourself be drawn in by the music or drawn in by the crowd. To just stick to the schedule is to miss the surprises that come up."
-- "There are signs all over the place, it's pretty easy to find your way around."
-- "Wear comfortable shoes. They don't have to be specifically for dancing. Preferably flat, shoes that won't fall off. Sneakers or runners will do just fine." (Dancers must wear soft-soled, non-street shoes on all wooden dance floors)
-- "Most of the dance spaces are in one building, so you can come in, get changed and walk around in your dance shoes."
-- "Wear comfortable clothing. I usually wear skirts that are fun to turn in, but mostly because I enjoy that. There's no dress code. It's very casual."