This semester I’ve had a crash course in Laban Notation and Movement Analysis with Dr. Kosstrin and colleagues, Eric Kaufman, Erin Yen, Carolyn Cox, Calder White and Steven Ha. This small group has bounced, fallen, spoked, floated through the language and symbols of Laban to get at the question of how dance means and how we talk about it. to transition from getting some Laban tools under our belts into actually engaging our own analysis of dance and aboutness, we attended and reflected on a Yiddish dance workshop as a form of participatory research. Having spent a lot of head space and discussion time on participatory performance and dance and in reflecting on my experience with this folk dance tradition, I was struck by the details of the dance that made it inherently communal, beyond the assumed, “okay now everybody lets hold hands”.
Yiddish Dance at the OSU Hillel in February
In deciding to notate the sher that Steve Weintraub taught us last Sunday, I wanted to indicate both the weighted resiliency that carried through much of the walking patterns, the importance of the relationship between the dancers and the basic sequence of the dance.
Within the sher, Weintraub indicated an essential element of weighted resiliency carrying through the shifting weight of an ongoing stepping that reflects rhythm and relationship to music as two pairs of dancers connected hand in hand rotated in circles and stepped side to side. This ongoing motor of the lower body contrasts with slower, gestural movements of the upper body and is a distinguishing aspect of this dance’s heritage. However, it is less improvisational than what Weintraub introduced as traditional Yiddish dance in that there is a set sequence of events that everyone participates in. As such, it was important to notate directions that the body moved in and relationships to other dancers, so that the agreement of all participants to move together can be achieved. In the initial circling pathways that the dancers go around, the pulse of stepping matches the pulse of the music. This aspect emphasizes that engaging with the music is important to the dance. However, in the latter part, what becomes important is that everyone moves in cooperation to the agreed upon directions and agreed upon amount of time; number of steps is not so important.
Another important aspect that I came away with was the democraticness of the dance. Weintraub taught the she with each pair having a passenger and a driver, choosing language that steered away from the connotations of gendered power dynamics in leader and follower. Ultimately, even these roles interchanged as each participant had the role of initiating as well as being receptive to another participant’s initiation in linking elbows and circling each other, regardless of whether they started as a driver or a passenger.
Another aspect I acknowledged while notating the sher is that none of the pathways were oriented towards a downstage or an upstage but instead oriented towards and around the people dancing or to the right and left. Weintraub described the dance as a truncated version of a square dance involving four couples dancing, the modification of two couples making the dance easier to assemble in social settings. The dance is landmarked by each participant connecting or addressing each of the other three participants at some point in the dance. I chose to notate these connections and the shifting relationships of passengers and drivers over indicating number of steps because participating in the sher, I experienced an overarching goal of connecting and witnessing within the group as opposed to performing outside of it. Overall, the dance carries a sense of levity, openness and connection through participants’ engagement with each other and resilient performance.