At Jewish celebrations, the hora is danced in a series of concentric circles, with the guests of honor typically in the center. As the circles spin round and round, guests in the outer circles angle and compete for the coveted center status. It is a chance to dance with the stars of the show and to show your jealous friends that you are better than them. It is an epic game of social climbing in which only the strong, obnoxious, audacious and narcissistic survive. If you are nice, genuine, considerate, shy, modest and/or self-aware, you will inevitably and sadly find yourself on the outside looking in.
So what are the unwritten rules for hora dancing at a simcha when it comes to the center circle? Let’s go over them.
1. Family first: If you are not directly related to the guests of honor, stay out of the center circle for the first few rounds. At the outset, parents, grandparents, siblings and in-laws should be the only ones to enter the middle. Do not wave your 23andMe test results in the air and claim that “we’re all related.” Blood is thicker than water so keep your non-viscous H2O on the outskirts until called upon.
2. The Elderly: Do not enter the inner circle before Bubbie and Zaide have made an appearance. This often means patiently waiting for Saba and Safta to slowly shuffle in, often with the aid of a handler or two so that can have a brief meaningful moment with the guests of honor. If you do anything to impede or diminish such a magical, intergenerational exchange, you will be banished in perpetuity to the outermost circle where you’ll be holding hands with the pathetic periphery of social schlemiels.
3. Childhood Friends: For some reason, childhood friends have carte blanche access to the inner circle, even if they are secretly or even openly loathed by the guests of honor. There is something about the sheer longevity of a relationship that automatically entitles “old-school” chums to preferred positioning. So, if you are a newer friend, stand back and allow nostalgia to win the day.
4. The Clergy Do not enter the inner circle until the rabbi and rebbetzin have made an appearance, This possibly applies to the Chazzan too but not to the synagogue’s executive board. If you see the Shul’s Treasurer dancing solely in his/her official capacity, then you can cut in without fear, unless you are behind on your shul dues or annual pledges. In that case, it might cost you.
5. Close friends: Admittedly, this grey area is where the real battle begins because the term “close” is somewhat vague and thus open to interpretation. Here’s a simple fail-proof test: If the guests of honor pull you in to dance with them, you are close friends. If, instead, you have to push yourself into the middle, then you are not close friends. But what if you begin to push yourself in and then the guests of honor pull you in the rest of the way? It depends on whether they pulled you in based on excitement/fondness or guilt/pity. Bear in mind that not everyone can be your best friend. Some folks belong on the periphery and that’s ok. If not for those on the outer-edge, there would be no inner circle, which arguably would be unnatural. As a society, we need a clear and definitive pecking order because without it, we risk living in . . . perfect harmony. How boring would that be?
6. “They invited us so we invited them”: If in the inner circle you spy someone who obviously was invited based solely on reciprocity, then you should feel free to make your move.
7. Nudniks: Like water finding its lowest point, nudniks cannot be stopped; they can only be contained. Eventually, they will “nudnik” their way into the inner circle but that’s usually when the band mercifully takes a break. Nice try, Nudnik!
8. Parents of your child’s friends: Just because children are friends (from school, shul, camp, etc.), does not mean their parents are friends too. These types of parental relationships are often built on flimsy foundations and usually collapse when the children fall out of touch. So, whether such parents should be dancing in the inner circle really just depends on the friendship status of their kin.
9. Too scared not to invite them: Sometimes, there are people who are invited simply because the inevitably intense and epic fallout of not inviting is just not worth it. But these creeps have no business in the inner circle so feel free to give them the boot.
Final thought: Being in the middle of the action is fun, but being in the eye of the storm is not.
By Jon Kranz