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Re: sher questions

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 

Message ----- 
  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!


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