Fryelekhs (there are many spellings) is Yiddish for “merriment or pleasure” – think frolic.
Freylekhs can refer to Yiddish happy music in a steady, medium-to-fast tempo. First we’ll hear Klezmer icon Naftule Brandwein with Nifty’s Freilach;
Freylekhs also refers to the dancing commonly done to Freylekhs music. There is no set pattern for this dancing – no choreography. Dancers often move in a circle, to left or right, but can also form a Grand March, or move towards and away in opposing lines, or dance solo or in pairs.
More important than footwork is spirit. Freylekhs are most often danced at weddings and bar mitzvahs – joyous occasions. For an explanation of the connection between joy and spirituality in Yiddish/Hassidic culture, see the first 4 minutes of this YouTube.
In Yiddish dancing in general, and freylekhs in particular, footwork is simple – walking mostly. The action is mostly above the waist – the arms reaching out to another, or expanding in joy at being out of cramped spaces, or up to the Almighty or in sheer exuberance.
The root of all these moves is Hassidic – a repeated melody (Nigun) danced by the rebbe (rabbi). His new daughter, the bride, is at the other end of the white sash.
Here’s Helen Winkler teaching a collection of freylechs moves.
Moves – IN CIRCLE OR LINE
Walk to L, R,
In & Out walking
Arms on next person’s shoulders
Both arms up, or to one side, then another
Two-steps in, hop-reels out,
Side steps, pump arms up & down
Pass R, L, shoulder (NOT do-si-do)
2 hands around
Forward & Back (Pump arms, airplane)
Circle with arms forming circle, circle- 1 elbow hooked, then the other
Put ’em all together and it can look like this: (a relatively restrained British version)
Or this (the first 15 minutes, anyway):
Or this (especially the first two minutes):
Now a word about terminology. The words, Hora, Jewish Wedding Dance, Freylekhs, Mitzvah Tantz – all can refer to dancing at a Jewish wedding. Technically, the Rebbe Nikolsburger (above) was dancing a Mitzvah Tantz (Hassidic) – a solo performance for the bride. Male relatives and the groom also do a Mitzvah Tantz, but it should be to the bride (or with the bride in some cases) to honour her and bring joy to her (a Mitzvah). Mitzvah is Hebrew for “commandment”, so a Mitzvah is more than merely doing a good deed, its reaffirming your relationship to God.
A traditional Yiddish wedding had many dances for many occasions – processionals, presenting of family members, admonishing the bride and groom, etc. Nowadays – the after-wedding party seems to be the major dance occasion. Hora is a catch-all word for many dances, both Jewish, Israeli, and (the source) non-Jewish Romanian. Today for some Jews, Hora may be the only Jewish dance term they know. What you see here that the Yiddish dance world would calls freylekhs is what some Jews mean by Hora.
In the Yiddish dance world, Hora means what I call the Taproot Dance, a 6-count walk-walk-step-kick-step-kick pattern (a dance Romanians call Sârba) that Jews commonly associate with the song “Hava Nagila” and the state of Israel. (see “Hava Nagila” under Music). To complicate things further, “Hava Nagila” was originally danced to music Klezmer musicians call a Bulgar (see Bulgar under Yiddish Dances).
For more uses of the term Hora see “Hora (Romania)” under “Begin”, and Zhok, under 1stG dances, as well as many Romanian dances with the word Hora in them.