Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Sandy's Cacak & more - virtually

We’re still dancing virtually in the North Bay – with Israeli class on Sunday mornings and Balkan/International on Monday nights. Both classes will continue through late December, and then start up again in early January.

In the Balkan class, we brought back Sandy’s Cacak, an old favorite that had dropped out of our repertoire. I have a vivid memory of longtime Petaluma folk dance stalwart Sandy Clemmer leading this dance, always wearing his opincas. In Serbia it's simply referred to as "Cacak Kolo; Sandy introduced the dance locally, hence the name. And we’ve been taking a fun deep dive into Albanian dances, some of them traditional (Valle Iusuf, Vallja e Katushkes, Populli Jon)l, others choreographed, including Valle e Permetit and Moj Maro. I also introduced great new music for Valle Pogonishte with vocals by well-know Albanian singer Merita Spahiu.


In the Israeli class, we’ve been having fun dancing favorite line dances including Hine Ma Tov #2, Vals Agur Zahav (originally done as a couple dance, but I found a video from Japan of folks doing it as a line dance), Sixteen Tons, (music by Tennessee Ernie Ford – a testament to the fact that Israelis will choreograph to any music), Jaimale, Pata Pata, Homey Twist (not Israeli, but a favorite Urban Soul line dance), and – of course – Jerusalema.


I invite any of you who are looking for more opportunities to dance to contact me at 415-663-9512 or cjay@horizoncable.comif you’d like to join us.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Virtual Dance Beat Goes On

 We’re still dancing virtually in the North Bay, certainly through the end of this year, and likely beyond. And we’re still having fun. I’m teaching Israeli on Sunday mornings, and Balkan/International on Monday nights.


My latest new favorite dance is Furla, a lively contemporary Bulgarian dance introduced by Gergana Panova. I saw this at one of the Peninsula Folk Dance Parties.I also stumbled on an interesting version of Sa Cocek– this one is from Albania and is called Sa Gjijile (also spelled Xhinxhile). It has a similar structure (10-counts), but a subtly different pattern and geography.


By request, I did a virtual Balkan session with a focus on Pontic dances, I’m digging into my own repertoire and also looking at videos online. We danced Dipat and Samson, both Greek dances that I originally learned when I participated in Yannis Constantinou’s annual folk dance seminar in Prespa. I also included included Tamzara (Armenia), Tik (Greece), Urdu (Turkey), and Omal Kars (Greece).


In my Israeli class, I’ve been bringing back old favorite line dances including Zodiak and Naomi,plus some top hits from the Gadi Bitton repertoire (Salamati, Ya Raya, and Or Chadash).


I invite any of you who are looking for more opportunities to dance to contact me at 415-663-9512 or cjay@horizoncable.comif you’d like to join us.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Going Virtual

It was like going through the stages of grief, not being able to teach and dance together with all of my folk dance buddies when the virus hit along with shelter in place orders. I’ve been teaching three classes a week for years now; it’s part of my weekly rhythm, my friendship circle, my exercise, my fun, my way of feeling connected and happy and at peace with the world.

I still miss holding hands in a circle, and look forward to the time when we can do that again. But I’m pretty sure that time is far in the future.

So I have made the leap to go virtual. I am now teaching two weekly class via Zoom – Balkan and Israeli. It was a big leap for me (I hate new technology), but with the help of some knowledgeable and generous dance friends, I did it.

And I have discovered that I’m really loving it.

It’s different. When I teach or review a dance, I have to turn my back from the screen, so folks can distinguish left from right. I have dance far enough away from the screen so people can see my feet. It’s much harder to balance without holding hands. And it is also much harder to remember dances without that connection. You have to keep everyone muted so the music works, which means there’s much less easy casual conversation.

And – I am once again dancing regularly with my wide circle of dance friends. We chat first, just checking in, as we always did in my previous classes. I get to dance the dances I love. I get to teach again, which is one of my greatest pleasures. I’m having fun discovering new dances (and re-discovering old ones) through the wide variety of virtual folk dance classes and parties that are happening. I've come back home to dancing, and it feels good.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Reflections on Israeli Music & Dance: Hine Ma Tov

Many Israeli dances are done to songs with lyrics taken directly from the Bible and Jewish liturgy. One of the most well known is Hine Ma Tov; the words are from Psalm 13 and translate to "How good it is for brothers to live together in peace and harmony." This song is sung regularly at Shabbat and High Holiday services.

The first dance version was choreographed in 1950 by Israeli dance pioneer and choreographer Rivka Sturman, using an Ashkenazic melody. It’s a simple two-part dance, done holding hands in a circle:

The other common melody is Chassidic, and is often sung as a round. It was popularized when it was included in the classic songbook Rise Up Singing. Here’s a version from Abayuda of Uganda:
And here’s a beautiful rendition by Harry Belafonte:

In 1999 a new version, commonly dubbed Hine Ma Tov 2, became the hit of the Israeli folk dance scene. The song is performed by the Miami Boys Choir, with music composed by Moshe Jacobson and dance choreography by Silvio Belfen. 

It’s interesting to note the profound difference between Sturman’s simple two-part dance and the newer line dance version, which mirrors the increasing complexity of life in Israel (and the world) over time.

Hine Ma Tov 2 created a flash mob dance craze around the world.
This one’s from Spain:
And my absolute favorite:
This one ditches the choreography - but you just have to love these construction workers!

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Reflections on Israeli music & dance: Hora & Hava Nagila

Hora & Hava Nagila

Most Americans think of the hora (and the popular song Hava Nagila) when they hear the term “Israeli dance.” The irresistible rhythm and joyful melody have made this song one of the most popular party dance tunes in the United States. It is pretty much required for any bar mitzvah or wedding. 

Here, the hora is danced moving to the right (counter-clockwise), but in Israel, it moves to the left, as you can see in this video: 

By contrast, here’s a Yiddish/Klezmer version of the hora, with very different music and footwork:

The song Hava Nagila, which means “Let Us Rejoice,” has been covered by an astounding variety of musicians, including Glen Campbell, Lena Horne, Chubby Checker, Connie Francis, surf guitarist Dick Dale, and the Barry Sisters. Singer Harry Belafonte recorded it in 1959; it became one of his most popular songs, and he rarely gave a concert without singing it. 

Check out these versions of the song:
Serbian brass band master Boban Markovic: 
Take your pick, or dance to them all as you shelter in place.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Reflections on Israeli Dance: Choreographer Rivka Sturman

If you have ever gone to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah or a Jewish wedding or a Jewish camp, you have probably done the classic Israeli folk dance Zemer Atik. Also known as Nigun Atik, the title means “ancient song.” It’s easy, fun, and has great music. 

Zener Atik was choreographed in 1955 by Israeli folk dance icon Rivka Sturman. Sturman was an early pioneer of Israeli folk dancing, an invented tradition originating in the 1940s as part of a deliberate and focused campaign to create a cultural tradition for the newly created state. These dances were intended to unify Israel as well as facilitate a sense of national identity. Her dances include Dodi LiHarmonicaHashualHora ChassiditHineh Ma Tov, and Kuma Echa.

Here are video links for her ever-popular Zemer Atik and Mayim so you can watch – and hopefully dance along! 

Zemer Atik:


Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Virtual Dancing: Our New Normal

Virtual folk dance classes, virtual folk dance parties, watching videos and dancing along -- this continues to be our new normal right now - and it looks likes it may last much longer than we every expected.

This means all of folk dance devotees need to keep dancing alive in our own homes and living rooms as best as possible. I continue to stay in contact with all of my students, checking in to see how they are holding up, and sending three videos a week (Israeli dances for my Israeli class, international/Balkan for my other classes) out each week for folks to dance by themselves, in whatever room is available.

Here are a few recent links that I have been sharing:

Sweet Girl (Armenia/U.S.):
Zonradikos (Greece):
Sadi Moma (Bulgaria):

Some resources to check out: the Peninsula Folk Dance Council (you can find them on Facebook) is doing virtual folk dance parties - the next one is scheduled for May 9, 3-6 p.m. And the Folk Arts Center of New England is offering Saturday morning classes - check this out at

This too shall pass. It's going to be a long haul - but hopefully we'll all get through it with grace, a sense of humor, and hope for a better new world with lots and lots of dancing.