Dancing the Hora on Martisor

IMG_9542I have a student who is Romanian. I told her that my mother is Romanian, so we have playfully exchanged a bit of simpatico through the year over our shared nationalities.

A couple of days ago, she brought me this note with amulet attached. Martisor is the Romanian celebration of spring. Amulets are worn over the heart to bring good luck and prosperity, especially for the first nine days of March but can be worn through the entire month. The first nine days are especially powerful. One is supposed to pick one of those nine days and whatever the weather is on that day predicts how the rest of your year will unfold. I had never heard of this. My grandmother, who left Romania when she was in her early twenties, never celebrated Martisor in America. Perhaps this was celebrated more as a Christian festival. My family is Jewish.

As I read the note, I was surprised to find under the legend section, which explains more of the pagan origins of this tradition that, “the Sun embodying a handsome young man came down from the sky to dance a ‘hora’ in a village” (see image above).

“A ‘hora,'” I exclaimed. “That’s a Jewish dance. Aren’t you Christian?”

“Everything is mixed in Romania.”

“Really?!”

“I was at a wedding in Romania, dancing the hora, and my shoe flew off and smacked me in the face.”

“Ouch.”

We googled “hora” and learned that its etymology is related to the Greek word which means “dance” or “circle.” The “hora” is indeed a traditional, very old, Romanian folk dance tradition performed in a circle holding other dancers’ hands, an essential part of weddings and other celebrations. The “hora” in klezmer music is the same as the Romanian hora. Exactly the same. The Israeli hora is a variant of this circle dance, probably first performed in the early 1920s, a symbol of the Zionist movement, danced to Israeli tunes but especially “Hava Nagillah.” There are related versions of the “hora,” all called “hora,” “ora,” or “oro” in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Turkey, and with the Romani people as well.

With my Martisor pinned above my heart, I am dancing the “hora” as spring approaches (and it will be here!), a dance, as it turns out, that is much more universal than I suspected. As this seasonal renewal draws nearer, we would all do well to focus on how much we share as opposed to how little we differ. I’m sure my grandmother would totally agree.

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