After watching a fascinating Zoom session on Sephardic culture, I was inspired to dig deeper into Sephardic music and dance – and to bring back several dances to Sephardic music including La Rosa Enfloresce (the Sephardic language version of the Israeli dance Hashoshanah Porachat). As far as I know, the only dance in the repertoire that appears to be traditional is Alta es Luna; it was introduced as such by Eric Bendix.
The language of Sephardic Jews was Ladino, a romance language that originated in Spain and was preserved by the descendants of Spanish Jews who were expelled from Spain after 1492. It’s a very archaic form of Castilian Spanish, mixed with Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Turkish, Greek French, Bulgarian and Italian. Ladino preserves many words and grammatical usages that have been lost in modern Spanish. It was originally written in versions of Hebrew script, but these days it is written with the Latin alphabet.
In the videos I watched online, only the women dance, no one is holding hands or leading, and it resembles basic belly dancing. The women (called Tanyaderas) led song and dance life-cycle celebrations, especially for the many events that were part of weddings. A frame drum was used to accompany their singing. Medieval texts and images suggest that Jewish women’s song-dance leadership was normative in Mediterranean Jewish communities.
In Sephardic communities such as those in Turkey, the Balkans, Bosnia, and Morocco, Tanyaderas were invited to sing and drum at all the life-cycle ceremonies – most particularly at weddings - where they often conducted the ceremonies and supervised the details. Note that Miriam, the older sister of Moses, wrote the Song of Miriam and led the Israelites in dance and song at the shore of the Red Sea. Jeremiah proclaimedI have always loved this phrase from Ecclesiastes – “
Illuminated medieval Spanish (the prayer books read by Jews for the holiday of Passover) all included a section of images of women dancing. Depictions of Miriam and women celebrating at the shores of the Red Sea appear in the in the fourteenth century. In Sephardic communities in Turkey, the Balkans, and Morocco, Tanyaderas were invited to sing and drum at all the life-cycle ceremonies, where they often conducted the ceremonies and supervised the details.
Sephardic communities had many unique wedding customs. Tanyaderas led these events through their distinctive songs and dances, as they helped the community fulfill Jewish requirements for rejoicing at a Jewish wedding. This included the ritual bath the evening before the bride was to be married. Afterwards, the women, sang, danced, ate sweets, and drank strong liquor. Tanyaderas in Morocco also led singing and dancing at a henna party that involved painting the hands and feet of the bride-to-be.