One rather cheeky Cohen fan, Dr. HGuy (and he has a lot more detailed examples), has declared that the prototype for Cohen’s skipping is to be found in The Wizard of Oz. Not so. While googling Jewish wedding dances I discovered the more likely culprit: the bottle dance. Here is a group of New York bottle dancers who dance at Jewish weddings with real bottles on their heads:
If you have never seen the bottle dance scene from the Fiddler on the Roof, here is the video of the film version. I’m not going to imbed it, but if you have never seen the three minute segment, it’s well worth watching. The hand movements of the musical put me in mind of another type of dance, the dubka, danced by the Jews’ Arab cousins. For hardcore choreographers, here is another bottle dance from a school production of Fiddler on the Roof, you can see the steps better than in the film, and possibly read an account of velcro in hats.
Now, the Arab dubka. The best one online is still this out of focus one, apparently from a professional group at a wedding.
It starts slow, but towards the end they form a line and you can see the traditional form of the dance. Sort of. It’s really a man’s dance. Or rather there are separate dances for the men and women, since there will be separate parties for men and women.
I remember watching a TV special in the north of Jordan with a film from 1930–my Arab friends were very interested in the film since it showed the dubka danced by alternating male and female in a circle. You won’t find that now. North or south, the women want nothing to do with the men. The women’s dance is also slightly different, the feet crossing in a different direction. Here’s a women’s impromptu dubka, probably at a wedding. Here is also my little video of Chicago Arabs dancing impromptu about Daley plaza, also with separate lines for the men and women. When the women go past, you can really see the proper footwork.
If you stop and count the beat of both the music and the dance steps, the music is in 4/4 time, and the dance steps are in 6/8 time. Maybe that’s why it’s such an intensely focused dance. I have yet to see an example that is different.
Still the best part of the dance is not the feet, where some of the dancers get fancy with the stomping; or even the hand movements, with the lead dancer twirling a string of prayer beads in the air. It’s the haunting sight of a long line of gorgeous men of all ages, shoulders interlocked, moving in rhythm, first just back and forth easily, then eventually the whole line moving in a huge circle.