Monday, August 17, 2009


[I hope there will be a lot of collaboration on this one, so i will set out the framework and edit it a lot, so please make suggestions and additions in comments and I'll add them to the main text.]

One of the most festive parts of the (Ashkenazic?) Jewish wedding tradition is the shtick. According to Wikepedia:
"Shtick" is derived from the Yiddish word שטיק, meaning "piece"; the closely-related German word Stück has the same meaning.
In a wedding context however, it refers to a specific part of the dancing. Generally there is circle dancing. At some point brides and grooms (and sometimes their families) are lifted in chairs. Once the couple* is returned to ground level it is time to fulfill a special wedding-specific miztvah: mesameach chatan v' kallah (gladdening the groom and bride).

The general setup is:
  • bride and groom is sitting on chairs
  • open space in front of them
  • music playing
  • people standing around the open space.
Now, many things will happen, all designed to entertain the couple. I'll look at a few categories of entertainment and then at a few common tricks. I am sure that many of you will have all sorts of ideas as to how to do these various tricks better and will have suggestions of others I forgot. My intention is to create a framework so that we can all collaborate to make a good repository of ideas so that folks unfamiliar with this part of a wedding can think about how they'd like to participate ahead of time. My personal experience, is that this offers an opportunity for different kinds of skills to emerge and people who aren't used to having some of their talents recognized in a Jewish context get that chance here.

Oftentimes guests who know the bride and/or groom well will have prepared various sorts of brief skits. These should be short because quick turnover is important to the flow, and these can drag out if brevity isn't a focus. As my new neighbor, BZ, reminded me--since the music is often loud, skits should be purely visual so the bride, groom, and assembled masses can all enjoy it without hyper-focus. Examples?

Signs, Decorations, etc
It commonly happens that people will use inside jokes, groom/bride related humor, etc to concoct funny posters and other objects that relate to the specific couple. Who has examples?

Often, kids get involved and do very cute things. I saw a 7-year old bring a violin once, hush the band and play a piece he had recently learned. It was delicious.

Personally, this is my favorite category. Tons of approaches are in-bounds. Magic tricks, feats of strength and balance, fancy dancing, and anything else worthy of the spotlight. Here are a few examples:

Bottle Dancing
--This is a feat of balance that ranges from simple to extremely hard. You move around with a bottle on your head. If you are beginning you might just walk around, which may very well impress. The guy pictured below can come very close to lying down and standing back up without ever touching the bottle. Word to the wise: this trick is easiest when the bottle is about half full. Difficulty: Ranges. Wow Factor: Very High. Injury Risk: Low.

(Photos Courtesy of The Wandering Jew)
Super Spin (no idea the actual name): This one is about balance and focus. It happens with two people. They hold both their partner's hands, lean back and spin as fast as possible. Without good execution this can lead to all sorts of problems. A few thoughts on how to do it well. You need a lot of space--if you don't have enough you may end up in a high speed collision. Make sure your hands are fairly dry. If you lose your grip, both people will go flying. There is some tendency to move together away from your starting point, slow down when you feel this motion since you will be somewhat disoriented and have a difficult time judging how far you can move. Generally, it's optimal to have people of roughly the same size and weight if you plan to go very fast. Additional variation: if one person is much lighter then the other, the light-one can jump and become fully horizontal. Difficulty: Low-Moderate. Wow Factor: Moderate. Injury Risk: High, if inexperienced. The name I attached to this is stupid. Does anyone have a better suggestion?

Flying Hora--This is another trick that is easy to dabble in and hard to execute well. It happens with an even number of people and is a close relative of the super-spin which is discussed above. The taller (and usually bulkier) folks spin the leaner folks so they are nearly horrizontal. This is accomplished by the taller folks holding each others hands and the lighter folks holding hands behind the taller folks shoulders. If you want to try this out, look at the specifics of the grips and locations in the picture below carefully. Difficulty: Moderate. Wow Factor: High. Injury Risk: Low, if experienced.

--pretty obvious. Difficulty: Ranges. Wow Factor: Medium (unless stuff is burning, then high. If plastic is burning, very high, bro.) Injury Risk: negligible.

(sp): This is one of a variety of difficult dances which originated in the Russian folks dance tradition. It features kicks from a squated position. This one takes practice, balance, strong ankles, backs, and legs. It also has a wide range of variations with different difficulties. The name, probably emerged from Kazak, the word for Cossack in many Eastern European and Central Asian languages. Here is a video that features the most common variation of that dance at the 0:38 mark. Difficulty: Ranges widely. Wow Factor: Moderately high. Injury Risk: Moderate (especially with a history of back or groin problems).

Balancing Stuff: People sometimes do complicated balancing routines besides the bottle/head maneuver. Just this past weekend I saw a guy balance a folding chair on his chin.Difficulty: High. Wow Factor: High. Injury Risk: Modest (mostly to people besides the balancer).

Fire Tricks: This is a very broad category of tricks which includes everything from juggling to fire swallowing. My personal favorite involves lighting hats on fire. Fedoras work well for this. It must be done with a liquid that will burn at a lower heat than the one at which the hat's material will burn (or melt). The theory goes, that the fluid (isopropyl alcohol, for instance) will burn but the hat will not, giving the appearance of the hat being on fire but not being consumed. Make sure there isn't alcohol on the under side of the top of the hat. You MUST NOT use a fluid with a fire point close to that of the hat nor can you let the hat burn for more than a few minutes. Lastly, beware of hats made of synthetic materials as they can melt. If you get good you can also toss the hat. As with any fire trick, beware of this problem and make sure you have water or an extinguisher handy. Difficulty: Modest. Wow Factor: Very High. Injury Risk: Ranges widely with practice level.

Human Pyramid: You are no doubt familiar with this standby. Obviously, bigger people on the bottom, lighter folks on the top. Difficulty: Depends on size. Wow Factor: Depends on size. Injury Risk: Modest.

Break Dancing: This is another big category. Be it b-boying, popping/locking, capoeira-influenced it will be a hit. Difficulty: High. Wow Factor: High. Injury Risk: modest.

Wheelbarrow: This is another piece of shtick that is very common. It is exactly as you remember from grade school. One person holds the other's legs and the other walks on his/her hands. Some just go straight to walking on their hands.

Bull Fight: This is another common maneuver often making an appearance during the shtick portion of the celebration. You typically see a person with a napkin waving it as a matador might. A second person snorts and charges as a bull might. Great fun is had by all.

What other things have folks done, seen, considered?

Here is a clip of what I assume is a professional shtick guy. He does some wild stuff.

*for simplicity's sake I will defer to a wedding with one groom and one bride, though several other combinations are obviously possible. Brides, Grooms, and a Bride+Groom function basically identically in this ritual, so assume when I say "Bride and Groom" assume I mean "a bride and a groom, brides, or grooms" .


At 8/24/2009 , Blogger Aharonium said...

Some of these moves should help:

At 9/08/2009 , Blogger Betsy Teutsch said...

Women like to do chorus line type dancing. It's hard to do a lot of acrobatics et al in skirts. Wearing shorts under a dress is great for those with a cheerleading/gymnastics background! You can get a lot of attention by taking off your dress, and having leotards et al on underneath, the easier to do tricks with!

At 12/14/2010 , Anonymous Ari said...

Who knew breakdancing had its origin in Ukranian Kossack dancing?


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