I’ve learned a lot about music from playing in the Wholesale Klezmer Band. I play the flute and lead dancing. It has helped me see more clearly the band’s role in making a celebration truly happy.
There is a tendency, especially when a band has just one “Jewish set” that they play, to play the music at a frantic, fast tempo for that whole set. The result is that the dancers get breathless and soon leave the dance floor.
My preference is a slow approach, where the tempo and intensity of the music build, so that it is easy for guests of any age to join the dancing, people have a chance to look at each other and feel connected by the music and the movement. As the tempo of the music changes, when the dancers make their steps smaller, they are able to keep on dancing. It is very aerobic, and doesn’t have to be taxing. We play for a good 45 minutes in a dance set, and want to keep as many people dancing as possible.
One of the things I like to have happen is that, when the bride and groom or the bar or bat mitzvah are lifted in chairs, the circle of dancers keeps circling around them, perhaps in more than one circle, going in opposite directions. It increases the exuberance and sense of celebration. When the music has gotten too fast too quickly, the dancers see the lifting of the chairs as an excuse to stop dancing and to clap hands, standing in place.
It is part of traditional Jewish dancing for one or two people to go into the center of the circle and “shine,” the Yiddish word for this kind of dancing. Those in the center may swing each other around, might do a “kazatske,” walk on their hands, or do a “step-kick” circling movement; while they’re taking their turns, it again feels more festive if the circle around them keeps going. It is great when the band can encourage this kind of dance participation with the way they play the music.