The Hora Jewish Wedding Dance
For those who’ve had the good fortune to participate in a Jewish or Jew-ish wedding ceremony, their fondest memory is probably of the hora.
The hora—otherwise known as the horah or Jewish or Israeli dancing—is an exuberant circle dance that’s a centerpiece of Jewish bar-mitzvahs and weddings. Originally a slow dance often practiced in Romania, it’s morphed into a collective, joyous circle dance set to lively klezmer music.
Wedding guests begin the hora by dancing circles around the newlyweds. Eventually a sheet or two chairs are brought out. Guests hoist up the bride and groom on separate chairs or toss them, one at a time, on a sheet. Meanwhile, the guests continue to celebrate the married couple and dance around them.
At least, that’s the contemporary version of the hora. The traditional dance doesn’t involve lifting the newlyweds—guests just stomp and jump around in a circle.
Within the Jewish faith, differences in ideology also influence how the hora is performed. For example, Orthodox Jews, perform the hora with the bride and groom separated by a partition called a mechitza. Reform and Liberal Jewish ceremonies, as well as those that are Jewish- inspired, often simply have the bride and groom lifted together as guests circle the pair. Once lifted up on their chairs, the bride and groom are sometimes given a handkerchief to physically and symbolically connect the two.
No matter what particular form the hora takes, the dance is a time for guests to celebrate the marriage of the happy couple and show them how happy they are for them. It’s like a gift to the bride and groom in that guests are supposed to dance the hora with the same passion and joy they’d express at their own wedding.
The Jewish faith has many wedding traditions from the Talmudic code, including an obligation of guests to entertain the bride and groom. Often the code is translated to dancing before the newlyweds. However, since there’s some dispute as to the exact nature of how the bride and groom should be entertained, contemporary guests have looked inside and outside the Talmud for inspiration.
One story in the Talmud is about a rabbi who sought to entertain several brides by carrying them on his shoulders as their guests danced around them. To avoid objectifying and making a spectacle of the bride—and probably to make it easier on the rabbi—the two chairs were introduced. That way, it was a celebration of marriage as well as an expression of joy for those getting married.
Although the chairs—or, for the adventurous, the sheet—are part of Jewish wedding customs, the hora is the dance itself. And to whip up the crowd and amp up the energy, there’s an official or unofficial hora dance leader. If the happy couple’s budget includes a live klezmer band, the band often designates a hora leader to get into the fray and show everyone what to do. For those who have to make do with a playlist, a volunteer can be designated ahead of time.
The volunteer hora dance leader—or a committee composed of experienced friends and family who work well together—should know the steps and be able to enthusiastically teach it to guests. The bride and groom should know the steps, too. Since the hora is such a fun, memorable part of Jewish weddings, it’s worth investing some time in practicing and preparing the playlist.
Dancing the hora is all about the married couple and making their wedding day as special as it can be. It’s an experience that will long be savored by the wedding guests and the wedded couple.