Music & Entertainment

In Their Own Words: Lady of the Dance

Or how one bride became the go-to leader of the hora

A year and a half ago, I married a man from a very traditional Jewish family, which thrilled my parents since we are also Jewish. Our wedding ceremony took place under a chuppah (the Jewish wedding canopy), and we picked a band that could deliver time-honored klezmer songs for the reception. On the first note of “Hava Nagila,” the entire room broke out into the hora, a traditional Jewish folk dance, and circled around us as we were lifted up in chairs. Our megahora lasted for a full 45 minutes, and all of our guests, including my non-Jewish friends, caught a case of hora fever that day.

Ever since then, it seems that I have become the hora go-to gal at my friends’ weddings. On three separate occasions, I’ve been caught off guard when “Hava Nagila” starts to play and the bride and groom look to me to initiate the hora. It probably wouldn’t be so startling if these friends were Jewish—but they’re not. They just loved the hora so much at my wedding that they wanted to recreate the experience at their own. And so this is how I became their Jewish ambassador to hora-land.

One of the reasons the hora is so adored is that young, old, clumsy or graceful, anyone can do it. For the bride and groom, there’s also something special about being lifted up in chairs in the middle of the hora circle. You’re physically surrounded by loved ones at your wedding.

But as nice and easy as the hora looks from the outside, there’s more to it than meets the eye. Doing this dance with a roomful of novices has given me the opportunity to observe several common hora horrors.

As every experienced hora-er knows, the most treacherous part is the chair lift. Even with some muscle behind it, it’s not uncommon for the bride or groom to feel like they are falling—or worse, to actually get dropped. The first time I was called upon to organize the chair lift, an alarm went off in my head. Terrified of not being able to pull it off, I grabbed a good friend (one of my former wedding guests) and barked the order to “GET MEN!” because I figured that men would be stronger. To my surprise, my deputy started arguing with me on the dance floor because she thought I was being sexist. “We don’t have time for this! Just get the men!” I yelled. I later explained that, in my panic, I wanted to simplify the issue.

The hora is like a shark—it needs to keep moving or it will die. Unfortunately, in non-Jewish crowds, the initial gusto tends to be replaced by polite confusion, as the guests are left wondering how long they are supposed to continue to circle around and around. The first time this happened, I freaked out and screamed “KEEP MOVING!” But I soon realized that I needed to break out of the hora and pull people around with me to keep it alive.

A traditional hora is made up of many concentric circles; the wedding party and their families usually dance in the middle of their guests. At the non-Jewish weddings, the VIPs would initially gravitate to the hub but quickly find themselves disoriented and standing awkwardly in the center of the room. To save the hora, I had to jump in there, take the bride and groom by the hand and show them what to do. I’d do-si-do with grandmothers and circle around with new mothers-in-law. As someone who was not in the bridal party, I couldn’t help but laugh when the inner circle at these weddings consisted of bride, groom, mothers, fathers, siblings... and me. I must admit, it can be kind of daunting to be called upon to lead 150 wedding guests in dance. But I soon realized what an honor it is to be able to make my friends’ weddings a little more special by sharing my own cultural traditions. Now I’m proud to say that I’ve earned a reputation as a true hora hero. Plus I always make it into the wedding album.

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