by Loui Tucker and Mark Tischler
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This article appeared originally in the October1991 issue of The Grapevine.
question often heard at dance camps: "Which dances do you like?" Dancers
go to camps wanting to learn and wanting to like what is presented. They are
highly receptive and not particularly critical. When the camp dances are taken
back to local dance clubs and classes, the drop-out rate is often high. The
folks back home, whose eyesight is not blurred by "camp madness" are
You'll hear experienced dancers make comments like, "That one will never stick," or "Don't bother learning that one. It's just a camp dance and it will never last." What makes one dance popular while another drops by the wayside after a few weeks? Are there some signs of a successful dance?
Presented here are observations from our many combined years of dancing, teaching, and going to dance camps. We've found some elements that seem to be typical of dances that fare better or fare worse.
1. Keep it simple. Not the dance, the dance title. Many popular dances have easy-to-remember, easy-to-spell names. Taba, Rona, and Shir have become standards not only because they are fun dances, but also because the names are short and simple and readily remembers at the request board. Hacholmim Achar Hashemesh is not a bad dance, but the name is a tongue-twister. If the name of a dance is difficult to remember, spell and/or pronounce, it faces an uphill climb. [Note how Shikor Ve Lo Mi Yayin quickly became Shikor.]
2. Face In/Face Out. How do you feel when a circle dance turns and everyone faces out? Don't you feel better when you're turned around and are again facing in? Whether they hold hands in the circle or not, dancers prefer to look at faces, not the walls of the room. Beginners and other trying to learn the dance on the fly on the outside of the circle also find it difficult with no one to watch. The less time spent facing out, the better.
3. Hassidic is a Long Shot. No prejudice intended, but Hassidic-style dances just don't seem to fare very well back at the local dance clubs. We may like to hear Klezmer music and dance to it at weddings, but we don't seem to accept the Hassidic style these days as part of the modern Israeli repertoire. We often express admiration for the clever way a choreographer uses Hassidic dance movements, but we've seen many dances fade away except for an occasional party or [if it's especially easy] as a warm-up dance. For every Hassidic-style dance that your class/club is doing regularly, there are a half-dozen that have disappeared quickly and quietly at dance camps.
4. Reverse Direction. Ever had this happen when you are trying to pick up a new dance: you join the line on the left end and it takes off to the right, counter-clockwise. Situation normal. After a few bars of music, perhaps at the end of Part I, the dancers suddenly reverse direction and move clockwise. You do not know the dance, and have suddenly become the leader! Panic! This is not critical if a dance is slow or if you are just repeating earlier steps in the opposite direction. However, a fast dance with a sudden change of direction and a new step pattern is not a good bet not to mention hazardous in a crowded room.
5. Inundated with Innovation. A few inventive steps in a dnace are intriguing and challenging, but a dance that is overloaded, without a friendly grapevine or a 3-step turn to cuddle up to can have acceptance problems. These dances frequently become "cult dances" appreciated by a few fanatics or dance experts while the masses prefer old favorites with familiar steps.
An interesting extension of this principle is the "Musika Musika" Maxim. After learning the first two parts of a three-part dance, the restless dancers will start muttering, "Musika!" (very roughly translated, this means "Enough already! Put on the music!"). Part Three had better be quick to teach and easy to learn.
6. Cut and Paste Dances. Ever heard a experienced dancer mutter, "This is just like.....," after learning a new dance? This means the dance has nothing new to offer. Dancers are generally unenthusiastic about dances that are re-arrangements of existing popular steps. What is quick to learn can often be quick to bore. But add one interesting and creative movement and the dance is saved. Dancers will tolerate an average beginning and middle if the chorus is creative and fun, especially if it is accompanied by good music.
7. Look at Me, Touch Me, Hold Me. The most popular couple dances involve a lot of eye contact, touching of hands, holding in wrap, ballroom, or varsouvienne position relating to the other person. If dancers are separated by more than a few feet, but are facing each other and relating to each other, the contact is still present. But ask dancers to dance back-to-back for more than four beats, or move away from each other more than an arm-length for more than four beats, and a couple dance starts to feel more like a solo. Lose eye contact and other reasons for dancing a couple dance and you lose the dancers.
8. Sing to Me! Whether they can carry a tune or not, dancers love to sing along. Even if they don't speak Hebrew, you'll see dancers mouthing familiar syllables and parts of a repeating chorus. If all other factors are equal, dancers seem to prefer a dance where they can sing along, over a dance that is done to music without lyrics. This is particularly true of couple dances, and less true of very fast line dances, since it is difficult to breathe rapidly and sing at the same time.
9. Speaking of Music.... Music is critical. All bets are off if the music and/or lyrics are wonderful. People will love an average dance with terrific music more easily than they will dance a terrific dance to mediocre music. Dances not accepted the first time out have often experienced re-birth when they are introduced to new music or a better arrangement of the old music.
Taking all of these points together, it seems that what we are saying is that we all want an evening of dancing in which we dance together. We seem to to want dances that are simple enough to invite newcomers, but are interesting enough to attract the experienced dancers. We are happiest facing each other, maintaining human contact, singing together even if we don't know all the words. We come to Israeli dancing to be together and dance together in a common experience.
The next time you say to yourself, after doing a dance, "Now that was a great dance!" see how many of these elements are at work.