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Traditional Jewish Dance

Tamara Warta

Traditional Jewish dance is a strong part of the Jews' cultural heritage, dating back to biblical times. In the past, it has been used as an integral part of religious ceremonies and observances, and still continues to thrive in certain sects today. Read on for some basic information about the various styles of traditional Jewish dance, as well as ways the Jews have contributed to more modern and mainstream dance forms today.

The History of Traditional Jewish Dance

At the beginning of Judaism's history, dance was used to express various emotions of a group. Much in the same way as how a modern day church will lead congregants in specific songs of worship, Jews danced to express their joy, mourning and any other emotion applicable to the time and event. Some of these dances continue to endure today, such as their wedding reception dance accompanied by the well-known klezmer music.

Jewish dances have formed and evolved over the years, inspired both by the Jews themselves and the Gentile traditions they live alongside of. However, their own style and traditions have endured, including such moral rules as never dancing together with the opposite sex at official events and functions.

There are many different types of traditional Jewish dance, and a brief explanation of three prominent genres is presented below:

Israeli Dance

Israeli dance is often considered a form of folk dancing, accompanied by music from Israel. They originally came about by serving as a creation of a new culture in an ancient world, fusing together other forms of dance along with traditional steps. Israeli folk dance even includes balletic moves in some forms. New dances continue to be created and performed in various locations since Israel first enjoyed independence, and are often a signal of joy and celebration.

Hava Nagila

Like Israeli dance, Hava Nagila is a Hebrew folk song that means "let us rejoice." Unlike many Jewish dances that focus on faith and liberation for their beliefs, the Hava Nagila is actually quite popular within Jewish communities that have a less than devout commitment to their roots. It is a social, celebratory dance more than anything else.


Horah is a circle dance that is performed in a lot of Jewish-driven nations. It also derives from the eastern European country of Romania, and is often regarded as the popular ringleader of all Jewish dances. You will sometimes see Horah at Jewish weddings, bar mitzvahs, and other religious rituals and get togethers.

Jewish Dance in Ballet

While you may not consider Jewish dance to be a part of ballet, quite honestly the Jews have made quite the contribution to this classic dance form. For example, the world famous Ballets Russes was created mainly by Jewish dancers and choreographers. Jewish ballet greats such as Lincoln Kirstein also helped to form the School of American Ballet, which continues to thrive in New York.

Jewish dance has such a rich culture and heritage; it is infiltrated throughout plenty of dancing circles all over the world. Jews continue to create and influence dance in countless ways, as is observed by anyone who has the privilege of watching both age-old choreography and modern ideals in action, be it here in the United States or overseas in native land.

Traditional Jewish Dance