I fell in love with Israeli folk dancing the year I finished college, after a friend dragged me to a session at the 92nd St. Y. I loved the energy, the music, and the variety in the dances. New York was a great place to enjoy Israeli dance as there were two big sessions a week that drew many young dancers. Dancing was a source of joy for me, and a wonderful way to make friends. Soon I began attending international dance sessions also. When I taught at P. S. 268 in Brooklyn in the 1970’s I formed a folk dance club. Many of my club members–fifth and sixth graders–were remarkable dancers. They learned and performed dances from Israel, the Balkans, Haiti, the U. S., etc.
When I moved to Princeton in 1977 I began attending the wonderful Friday night international session. There was no Israeli dance session in Princeton, but I found a few like-minded people, and we organized periodic Israeli dances in town. In 1980 I began dancing with the newly formed Princeton Country Dancers, doing contra dance and English country dance. The live music was a big draw for me, and I soon began playing in (and sometimes leading) open bands, and also playing in PCD’s community band, Rum and Onions. Eventually I formed the Jam Bandits with my older son and some close friends. We played for contra dances for about seven years.
When Princeton Friends School opened in 1987 I began leading weekly folk dance sessions for the students. Eventually, as the school grew, we had as many as 60 to 70 students, from first to eighth grade, dancing together. Also in the early years of the school I created a folk dance club for students who wanted more dance. Later on I split it into two clubs, a younger one that was low-key and informal, and an older club where students learned and performed more challenging dances.
For many years I limited my dance teaching almost completely to my school setting. But in the past decade I’ve gone public, leading contra dances and family dances regularly in Princeton and sometimes beyond. I’ve also been teaching at the international sessions in Princeton as well as a variety of community dances, barn dances and other events.
Here’s a video of me leading Debka HaChamor, the night I taught it to the Friday international group in Princeton. (Debka HaChamor was choregraphed by Shmuel (Vicki) Cohen; the song has words and music by Emanuel Zamir.)
And here is a video of the Big Phat American K-Lee Band playing a tune I wrote called Shemmi at a contra dance. (Shemmi is the first tune in the medley of four they’re playing.)
Here are three of my contra compositions and another one I co-wrote with Bob Isaacs.
Power Promenade Becket Richard Allen Fischer
A1 “Power Promenade:” Promenade across with your partner and make a big loop left so you face your next neighbors; ladies chain.
A2 Petronella x2
B1 Balance & Swing your Neighbor
B2 Give and Take to the Gent’s side.
Sheepshead Bay Improper Richard Allen Fischer
A1 Balance & swing neighbor. End facing down and form a line of four.
A2 Up the hall, moving backwards (4), down the hall forwards and all turn halfway to reform the line (4), down the hall, moving backwards (4), up the hall forwards (4)
B1 Ones gate the twos; twos swing in the center and end facing up.
B2 With handy hand (Gent 1, Lady 2 right hand; Lady 1, Gent 2 left hand) allemande 1 ½; ones swing in the center and face down to new neighbors.
White Christmas Richard Allen Fischer
A 48-bar Becket Contra
For the White family of Berea, Kentucky, in gratitude for their kindness and friendship at Christmas Country Dance School
A1 Circle L ¾, swing Neighbor, end facing down the hall
A2 Down the hall, turn alone, come up, bend to ring
B1 Petronella balance and spin; Petronella balance and spin enough to face new Neighbors
B2 Petronella balance and spin with new Neighbors and face across (Gent on right, Lady on left)
C1 With Neighbor across pull by left, with Partner pull by right to Shadow, with Shadow allemande left once to return to Partner
C2 Swing partner
Suggested tune: Ragtime Annie (AABBCC)
Surfing the Set Richard Fischer and Bob Isaacs, 3/14/12
A1. Neighbor balance and swing
A2. Circle L 3/4, partner swing
B1. Promenade across with partner, ladies gypsy R 1 1/2 to long waves (1)
B2. Balance, gents cross and ladies loop R to long waves (2); balance, ladies cross and gents loop R to new neighbors
(1) – With gents facing in and ladies facing out, neighbor in R and previous neighbor in L.
(2) – With ladies facing in and gents facing out, partner in R and shadow in L.