Everything You Need to Know About the Jewish Hora Dance

Jewish Hora Dance

PHOTO BY CAROLINE LIMA PHOTOGRAPHY

The hora dance (sometimes referred to as the chair dance) is traditionally performed at Jewish wedding receptions. It’s high energy and at some weddings can even go on for hours. It certainly takes stamina, but it’s lots of fun and is often considered one of the highlights of the wedding.

What Is the Hora Dance?

The hora is a traditional dance performed at Jewish weddings where the newlyweds are lifted into the air while their family and friends dance in circles around them. During the hora, the couple each holds one end of a handkerchief or napkin to signify their union.

Here, wedding planner Ruth Spirer takes us through this long-standing tradition.

Meet the Expert

Ruth Spirer is a wedding and event planner in Dallas-Fort Worth. Her company, Weddings and Events by Ruth, has been planning Jewish weddings since 2004.

The History of the Hora Dance

Traditional circle dances are nothing new. For centuries they’ve been practiced in many cultures across the Balkans and Southeastern Europe. The Turkish have their own version; so do the Romanians, the Bulgarians, and the Russians. The modern-day hora dates back to 1924 when a hora was performed for the Jews that were settling land in Palestine. It became associated with joy and has been performed at special occasions like weddings, both in Israel and America, ever since. 

While historical horas were performed with individuals twirling in circles, these days they are done in a group circle. Participants join hands and move in choreographed steps (don’t worry—they are easy to learn). In more traditional Jewish communities men and women dance separately in their own circles. In more modern communities men and women dance together in coed circles with the couple in the middle.

Hora Dance FAQs 

When should the hora be done?

The hora dance is performed during the wedding reception. There is no set rule for when it should be completed, but most couples chose one of two options. “The hora dance can be done as soon as the couple is introduced to the guests at the beginning of the reception,” says Spirer. “Or it can be done after dinner and then immediately open the dance floor for more dances with high energy.”

Who joins into the hora?

The short answer is everybody who wants to and is able. “All the guests join, and this is why at Jewish weddings it is recommended to have a large dance floor and enough space in the ballroom to accommodate this dance,” suggests Spirer.

Who is lifted on the chairs during the hora?

While the couple is always lifted on chairs, sometimes the couple’s immediate family members, parents, and siblings are also lifted into the middle of the circle.

Who lifts the couple onto the chairs?

Anybody can do the honors as long as they are strong enough. It can be hard work, so it’s common to swap people in and out to do the lifting as the dance goes on. Sometimes lifters are appointed beforehand while others spontaneously run into the middle of the circle. Even in traditional weddings where men and women dance separately, it’s common to see men lift the bride as well as the groom. “The groomsmen many times will be in charge of lifting the couple on the chairs during the dance,” says Spirer.

When should you start planning the hora?

It’s best to start planning the wedding reception two months before the wedding, and this includes the hora. Discuss with the DJ or the live band when you want the hora to take place and make sure they are prepared to play the right music. Don’t forget to discuss the length of the dance too!

Who plays the Hava Nagila?

A live band or a DJ can play the music for the hora. Just make sure the musicians are aware that you want to do the hora at your wedding and make sure they know how long you want them to play the music as the length of the dance varies.

Who initiates the hora?

It’s up to the wedding party and close friends and family of the couple to make sure the hora dance goes smoothly. If they get the circles moving, everybody else will follow.

Who dances inside the circles during the hora?

Often during the hora smaller circles are formed inside the larger circle. Because the couple is in the center of the circle, it’s customary to pull different groups in to dance with them. Put one bridesmaid or groomsmen in charge of encouraging guests of the wedding to swap in and out so everybody gets a turn.

What should the napkin be made of?

It doesn’t matter what the napkin is made of as long as it’s sturdy enough to withstand the dance and long enough for the couple to hold on each end. Often, a cloth napkin from the table setting is used. It can also be a piece of fabric that is meaningful to the couple.

How long should the hora be?

The hora can last as long as the couple desires. It can be a quick song or it can last multiple hours with different renditions. At more traditional weddings the hora lasts longer. At some Jewish weddings, the guests only do circle dances at the reception.

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