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Re: sher questions
- From: Steve Weintraub <dancinsteve...>
- Subject: Re: sher questions
- Date: Sat 24 Apr 2004 11.30 (GMT)
Hi, list. Writing at some unholy pre-dawn hour, on account of the jet lag.
I'm flattered that my name has come up so often in the discussion, and very
pleased that so many people are concerned about the sher, a dance that
certainly is on the endangered species list, and deserving of being saved from
Its strange that the sher is in fact so endangered, I'd put it pretty low on a
scale of complicated dances (to compare it to a really complicated dance,
compare it to the very goyish quadrille, in 5 distinct sections- if you have a
fast connection you can see one at
>From the many versions of the sher that I've looked at, I can make a few
>generalisations. First; the sher is a dance in a chorus, verse form. The
>Chorus usually starts with circling one way then another, and then follows
>some version of an "over and under" crossing over of opposite partners,
>sometimes preceded by a bow, sometimes not. This chorus is done the same way
>for each of the 8 repetitions of the dance. (in at least one Israeli version,
>there's a right and left hand star for men and women thrown in here, too)
The Verse involves some version of a firn aroys or leading out figure.
Basically, in each verse one individual in turn gets to dance with a partner
from each other couple, each time returning to his or her own partner. When
this figure is finished, a couples promenade can follow, or not.
The two most distinct elements of the sher are in fact the over and under
crossing, and the leading out. The typical version of leading out- 2
individuals meeting in the center with a stamp, then a quick spin away toward
the other's partner, seems to be unique to the sher.
Any version of the sher most commonly repeats this pattern 8 times, so if the
1st and 2nd couples know the dance well, its pretty easy for the rest to fall
into the pattern.
(From the many options available, its easy to see how many different tune
lengths might be accomodated by different dances)
So why is such an easy dance in danger of becoming extinct (he asks
rhetorically)? Perhaps it was too long and boring, or the tunes and dance
ceased to support each other and it became confusing to do, or a critical mass
of folks who knew the dance disappeared. This is what I think is so valuable
about the Workmans Circle sher - it was done on a nightly basis by young people
in the 40's without any formal instruction, and Naomi Lasher, the correspondent
for this version, had a very good recollection of it (she also does Scottish
figure dances, so is well trained to remember a dance!)
According to her, the tune used (perhaps exclusively) was the Chutzenyu tune
(with the jingle bells rhythm at the start) , and participants would sing along
to it as they circled.
I don't think the dance is really boring, and there's not much we can do about
vanished generations, but the issue of relation between the dance and the music
is something that we can definatley address. Ideally, the dance should be
implicit in the music, the way the parts of the body are implicit in articles
of clothing. (Pants imply legs and torso, a shirt; arms neck and torso) Certain
tune lengths fit parts of the dance particulartly well- tunes with long 8 bar
phrases are perfect for the chorus of the dance, and tunes with 2 or 4 bar
phrases really get under and support the leading out figures. When tune and
figure lenghts dont jive, (like a shout chorus of 24 bars over a 16 bar figure)
in order to continue dancing, the dancers must either ignore the music and just
respond to the beat, or have a figure at their disposal to fill up the extra
music (and if it comes at odd times, all 8 dancers have to realize how to fix
things at once.)
So, regarding the Veretzki pass sher- in Germany I cobbled together a kind of
typical version of a sher (circling, over and under, leading out and promenade)
and asked the band to play the tunes
AABB CCDDCCDD with AABB corressponding to the Chorus, and CCDDCCDDto the Verse.
Had about 60+ volk dancing it all the way thru (thats 8 times around, folks!)
Recently worked with the Philly sher, with Susan Watts and Elaine Hoffman in
Berkely. On looking at the dance and music, realized that the first 5 sections
fit the dance perfectly- with the B section shout accomodating the end of the
over under and the first solo lead out. After ABCDE, the music starts to
resemble a garment knitted by Morticia Adams, its impossible to imagine just
what figures are expected to go where. With Susan's and Elaine's blessings, we
did a little cut and paste Tikkun on the tunes, making sure that a shout was in
the 2nd position of every set of 5 tunes. The outcome of this experiment was
that a whole ballroom full of folks got thru the whole long thing, and I as
caller at least, was able to keep track of where in the heck we were.
So, in conclusion (I didn't realize that this post would be as long to read as
a sher is to dance!) I think its worth trying to revive the sher, and in order
to do that, we have to make the music something the dancers will want to listen
to, and that will "float" the dance. Also, within any community, its probably
worth finding a version of the sher that leader, musicians and dancers all
like, and sticking to it for a while, so that people can gain competence doing
it. Most often the dance is taught once and not seen again, so the simplicity
of the pattern is never discovered by either the dancers or the musicians.
' Nuff said.
p.s. after being in Europe for a while, I'm going to move that the Workman's
Circle Sher be abbreviated as the AR (Arbiter Ring) Sher, rather than WC sher,
which makes it sound like a dance performed while waiting in line for the
From: AGREENBA (at) aol(dot)com
To: World music from a Jewish slant
Sent: Wednesday, April 21, 2004 7:18 PM
Subject: Re: sher questions
Just to chime in a little here as well. I know when Steve led the sher for
KlezKamp last December - and indeed, he was trying to do the WC sher - he only
asked for the sher that began D, FFFFFF GFGA F; I'm sure all know the one...
And my point here is that he wanted the "refrain" to always be there for a
certain step, I believe the promenade part of it. So was Steve only trying to
make things simple for the morning musicians playing so that they wouldn't have
to play different sections? Clearly we al knew what a square phrase was so we
could have done other shers that were square, making for more sections. Hmmmmm.
Steve, I'm sure, will write back when he returns.
For fun this past weekend, I led a sher made up of steps learned, but perhaps
not in the right sequence or even exactly right. But it worked and I had 3
circles successful doing it. I did worry that I was creating a sher (um, call
it the CT SHER?) but we were all having too much fun. The 3 sections of the
tune were made up of bowing, dancing with the partner and then with each
right-hand person of the other partners, then finishing by dancing with your
partner again (and everyone else doing so as well.) This was sort of a
combination of what Michael Alpert taught us at KlezKanada last summer. So then
for the 3rd section we promenaded. We felt we were really doing something
pretty cool, almost right, and it fit the music perfectly. Hope I didn't offend
the tradition cuz we had way too much fun :-) Maybe Steve will write to me
off-list and scold me :-) But at least we ended with threading the needle and
that I KNOW is kosher!