Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tekhias Hameysim Tants - Dance of Death and Resurrection

Finally, a video of a Tekhias Hameysim Tants (Dance of Death and Resurrection, has been posted to YouTube. I first heard about the Tants (dance) through some discussion on the Klezmershack mailing list early in the Spring and found some interesting material on it but couldn't find any videos. And now, one pops up on YouTube for our edification.

So what, exactly, is a Tekhias Hameysim Tants? As described by Yiddish dance leader Jill Gellerman (in her KlezKamp 2007 dance class notes)...
"Symbolic of death and rebirth, the dance is traditionally done by men or boys after the ceremony when the status of the wedding couple has changed from single to married. The Tkhies hameysim tants or Death and Resurrection Dance, which I have witnessed at American Hasidic weddings in Brooklyn since 1975, is a freely choreographed pantomime for two men in three parts, accompanied by a medley of three separate melodies. Part I, a broyges tants, begins with two male friends sharing a bottle of whiskey in the center of a circle. One man tries to take the bottle, a fight ensues, and his friend lands on the floor as if dead. Part II, the revival of the dead man, is a slow doina section in which the Hasid, realizing what he has done, bends over his friend in order to resuscitate him. Using all manner of gestures with his handkerchief to bring him back to life again, the Hasid finally succeeds in awakening his partner, lifting him to his feet, and presenting him with the bottle. Part III, the final section is a freylekh of friendship and simcha. ... That the tkhies hameysim tants might have been transformed from the co-territorial non-Jewish population is suggested by comments from dance scholar Elsie Dunin, who saw this dance performed among the gypsies in Eastern Europe."
See the cool things you miss if you don't get invited to Chassidic weddings? I was proud of myself for getting a hora going and for hoisting my cousin up in a chair at her wedding last week. Not for a minute did I consider involving chicken bones in the process. Major oversight on my part. One note before you watch this, from what I've been told this video is representative of the dance but not nearly the height of musicianship and choreography that some weddings achieve. All I can say to that is, you should me and my cousins dance at weddings. These guys do fine.

Tekhias Hameysim Tants

If you're interested in obtaining an audio recording of Tekhais Hameysim, I'm aware of two sources. First is the Smithsonian Folkways recording "FW04209 Hassidic Tunes of Dancing and Rejoicing" and second is the Sameach Music recording "Piamenta 1990" (by the Sephardic group Piamenta).

One last note, clearly the idea of a Dance of Death and Resurrection raises an obvious Jews believe in immediate resurrection as represented in the dance? The answer is, "sort of" and "it depends on who you ask." The Judaism 101 website has a nice overview of the various Jewish beliefs about death and the afterlife. As it notes "Belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a fundamental belief of traditional Judaism." It also notes that "Judaism does not have much dogma about the afterlife, and leaves a great deal of room for personal opinion." Mystical groups, particularly among the Chassidim, "believe resurrection is not a one-time event, but is an ongoing process." For some example stories from the Chassidic tradition, see the website for the book "Jewish Tales of Reincarnation." So, my (non-mystical) Conservative movement Jewish beliefs don't include this kind of immidate resurrection but Chassidim does.

Hat tip to the anonymous YouTube user who posted the video and to Jill Gellerman for letting me quote her KlezKamp notes. Another good reason to go to KlezKamp! Thanks.

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