It’s December, the days are short, the nights are long, and it can be hard to remember where to find the light, especially since we’re not exactly out of the “Covid Woods” yet (although the vaccines are a most amazing gift and I am so grateful for them).
That being said, December is still a month that marks celebrations. So to help bring some light, here are some holiday traditions and, yes, dances of celebration!
Baile de los Seises (Dance of the Six), Andalusia, Seville, Spain
The Baile de los Seises is a very significant dance in Spanish tradition as well as in the Catholic Church. It is danced three times a year: in December to celebrate the Immaculate Conception, during Carnival in February/March, and during Corpus Christi in June.
Medieval in origin, the dance was held for hundreds of years until Jaume de Plaxes, the archbishop of Seville, decided to prohibit it. He claimed it was a “legacy of pagan culture” (Idealista), but more than likely it was a power play on his part to reaffirm his ecclesiastical hold over the artisan’s guilds since, according to tradition, the dancers consisted of young boys from these guild families.
Suffice it to say, the archbishop did not succeed. The people of Seville took their grievance all the way to the Pope, and obtained a bull that allowed them to continue their tradition.
Interestingly, the dancer troupe is not made up of six dancers -- at least, not today. In origin, there were six singers/dancers, but the number fluctuated over the years and now the established number of dancers is ten.
The dance takes place in front of the High Altar of the Cathedral de Santa Maria in Seville. The boys are dressed in medieval Spanish attire.
Image from https://sevillapedia.wikanda.es/wiki/Seises
And not only do the boys dance, they also sing. The whole celebration is a profoundly moving experience.
Dancing Around the Christmas Tree, Denmark
Just in case you thought “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” was only a song, in Denmark Danes traditionally dance around the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. They hold hands and sing Danish carols and hymns while dancing around the tree lit with candles. Some choose to do it before the Christmas Eve meal, while some wait until after. A tradition to warm and bring light to the dark.
Hanukkah, Festival of Lights
Hanukkah usually occurs in November/December, and commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabean revolt against Rome. According to tradition, there was only a very small amount of oil to light the Menorah during the rededication, and yet it burned for eight days. Thus, during Hanukkah one candle of the Menorah is lit every day to remember the miracle.
While not specific to Hanukkah, the Hora is a high-energy Jewish circle dance, traditionally danced during joyous celebrations. It’s very common at weddings, and usually involves the bride and groom being hoisted on their chairs. And whether you dance it at a wedding or during Hanukkah, be sure to wear good shoes because it can last anywhere from five to twenty minutes.
The Hora is danced to klezmer music, which contains influences from the Eastern European Jewish culture, as well as Eastern and Central European folk dance music. There is also, usually, a Hora leader who gets in the middle of the circle to encourage the dancers and show the novices what to do.
Eid al Fitr, Feast of Breaking the Fast
Eid al Fitr does not take place in December, but rather in the Spring, and falls at the end of Ramadan, the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting. The festival is celebrated over one to three days, depending on the country, and fasting is prohibited. It is a time for celebration and merriment.
Recently, in Dubai, the malls put on shows in celebration, with performances of the traditional Arabic dances, the Tanoura and the Khaliji. Both were performed in Syrian and Palestinian versions.
The Tanoura is a Sufi spinning dance in origin (it is also danced by non-Sufis now), and the male dancers wear long skirts that flare with the speed at which they spin.
“If the dance is performed according to spiritual association, he would be spinning anti-clockwise, symbolising Muslim pilgrimage around the Ka’aba. If it’s for entertainment purposes, he could spin clockwise or counter-clockwise.” (Makary)
The name “Khaliji” means “from the Gulf” in Arabic, referring to the regions where the dance originated. It is traditionally danced by women and incorporates “very distinctive footwork, shimmies only involving the hands and the shoulders, head slides and circles, chest drops, specialized finger snapping and distinctive hair flips” (Kadijah). Costumes are colourful and embroidered, and dancers are barefoot.
This is just a brief glimpse of some of the ways we use dance to bring light and joy and celebration. May it be a light for you, these long winter nights.
Cinnamon, Karen. Dancing the Hora: Everything You Need to Know. https://www.smashingtheglass.com/the-hora-everything-you-need-to-know
Dancing with Class. Dancing Around the Christmas Tree -- Denmark. https://dancingwithclass.org/holiday-dance-traditions-around-the-world
Idealista. The Dance of the 'Seises' in Seville, Spain. https://www.idealista.com/en/news/lifestyle-spain/2018/12/03/6351-dance-seises-seville-spain
Khadijah. What's Khaleeji Dance? https://www.sharqidance.com/blog/khaleeji
Libo-on, Lily. Traditional Dancing Main Highlight of Eid Celebrations. https://www.khaleejtimes.com/article/traditional-dancing-main-highlight-of-eid-celebrations
Makary, Marina. Spinning Away: The Origin of Egypt’s Folkloric Tanoura Dance. https://egyptianstreets.com/2021/10/03/spinning-away-the-origin-of-egypts-folkloric-tanoura-dance/
Marevna. Hasidic Dance During the Celebration of Hanukkah. https://womenart.com/2020/12/09/hasidic-dance-hanukkah-marevna