Israeli Folk Dancing
Glossary, Abbreviations and Step Definition

In order to notate the many Israeli folk dances, it is helpful to define some abbreviations and basic terms used to describe the steps in a dance When describing the basic steps, it is assumed that the starting position is standing with both feet together unless otherwise stated.

There are 2 basic types of action – weight transfer, such as walking and non-weight transfer such as touching or kicking.

The action is usually described for a particular foot, but the other foot can also be used. In a sequence of steps, it is usually obvious which foot to use next as if you start with the right, the next action is usually with the left if both actions involve a weight transfer, such as walking. However, if you touch or sweep or perform some other action which does not involve weight transfer, the next action or step is usually with the same foot, for example, sweep, step would both be performed using the same foot.

Most Israeli dances are performed in a circle. There are exceptions, such as the line dances, but it is convenient to describe the steps in relation to the circle (see i, o, a and c abbreviations).

Israeli folk dances can be broadly broken down into 3 categories. Circle (C), Partner (P) and Line (L). Partner dances have a number of steps which do not appear in Circle or Line dances and so when describing these steps, a (P) appears next to the step name.


I have tried to keep abbreviations to a minimum and so the following are the only ones used. When used in a description of steps, these abbreviations will be in bold type.

l left.


- pause
i in – moving or facing into the centre of the circle.
o out – moving or facing out from the centre of the circle.
a anticlockwise – this is the most common direction to start a dance, that is, facing and initially moving anticlockwise (if standing facing the centre, anticlockwise is to your right).
c clockwise (if standing facing the centre, clockwise is to your left).
f forward or in front. The distinction between forward and in front is usually obvious in the context in which this is used, for example, cross f means cross in front of the other foot. whereas walk f means walk forward.
b back or behind.
Walk If we start with the r foot, take a step forward with the r foot and transfer your weight to this foot. When you walk, you normally start to move the other leg after the first has taken the step, ready to take another walking step. You typically only walk forward or back (not sideways where the step is described as open/close).
Step Taking a step is the same as the first movement of a walk but there is an implication that the other foot does not move. You still transfer your weight to the foot you took the step with but leave the other foot in its starting position. This is typically used to describe the first action of a rocking motion, for example, step f, rock b, etc.
Open If we start with the r foot, move the r foot sideways to the r and transfer weight to that foot.
Close If we are using the l foot, with feet initially apart, bring the l foot next to the r and transfer weight to that foot. If we close with a touch, we don't transfer weight to that foot.
Balance, balance With both feet apart (about shoulder width), transfer weight from one foot to the other without moving the relative position of the feet. Usually 1 beat per balance. If the feet are not apart just prior to starting this step, the first balance is like an open to get into the starting position.
Sway, sway This is like a balance, balance but the body sways from side to side as you transfer weight from one foot to the other with a pause between each sway. This is often done with 2 beats per sway and a hand clap on the pause beats. It can also be described as balance, pause, balance, pause. Hands sway overhead in same direction as the weight transfer of the feet.
Rock The rock is just a transfer of weight from one foot to the other without moving the relative position of the feet. With r foot in front of the l, starting with weight on l foot, rock your body forward transferring weight onto the r foot. During this action, the relative position of the feet does not change. We can rock forward or back and start with either foot. We normally start a rock with a step forward without moving the position of the other foot and then a rock back onto the other foot. We can then continue alternately rocking back and forward (without moving the relative position of the feet) or perform other actions – see Cherkessia. Sometimes, stepping forward and rocking back is described as Rock And. I prefer to write step f, rock b.
Cherkessia If we start with the r foot, the normal action is: r step forward, l rock back, r step back, l rock forward. Note that the l foot (in this example) stays in the same position throughout this action. There are 4 weight transfer steps with 1 step per beat. Other variations are starting with the l foot: l step forward, r rock back, l step back, r rock forward. Or starting with a step back (r in this example): r step back, l rock forward, r step forward, l rock back – this would be called a back Cherkessia.
Grapevine There are several variations of this step. Note that a grapevine is usually done in groups of 4 steps, with 1 step per beat. The movement is to the side. The usual step is a crossing grapevine.
Crossing grapevine l: r cross in front, l open, r cross behind, l open.
Open grapevine l: l open, r cross in front, l open, r cross behind.
Crossing grapevine r: l cross in front, r open, l cross behind, r open.
Open grapevine r: r open, l cross in front, r open, l cross behind.
The crossing grapevine is the default step and so is normally referred to as a grapevine (leaving the crossing qualifier out). Given the direction you are moving and the starting foot, you can work out which type of grapevine should be done. Sometimes a grapevine sequence is started while facing in the direction of travel (typically the circle line). In this case, the first 2 steps are like walking steps and you pivot to face i on the last 2 steps to complete the sequence.
Step behind step in front This is like a grapevine except the second step is behind instead of in front as it normally is with an open grapevine. For traveling r, the sequence is: r open, l cross b, r open, l cross f.
Turn A turn is a rotation of the body and can be either clockwise c or anticlockwise a. Note that when describing turns or pivots, anticlockwise or clockwise is with respect to your body, not the dance circle. When turning c (to your right), you usually (but not always) start the turn on your r foot. When turning a (to your left), you usually (but not always) start the turn on your l foot. Turns are completed using 2, 3 or 4 steps (unless otherwise noted) – and 1 step per beat (unless otherwise noted). A full turn is a 360 degree turn where you finish up facing the direction you started. Turns can also be noted as being a number of quarters, for example a ¼ turn is 90 degrees, ½ turn is 180 degrees, etc. Note that if a full turn (360 degrees) is done in 4 steps, the actual turn is completed in 3 steps and the 4th step is usually a cross in front. If a turn is done in 2 steps, you actually perform a ½ pivot on each step in order to get around. When taking 3 or 4 steps, the pivot on each one is smaller.
Push Turn The actual turn of a push turn is the same as a turn but it is preceded with an open on the opposite foot with which you start the turn to give you a push start. Often done when the actual turn is in 2 steps. For example, a full push turn a in 3 beats starting on the r would be: open r, full turn a in 2 steps (l then r) to finish facing the same direction that you started.
Pivot A pivot is a rotation of the body but it is performed on one foot in 1 beat. The amount of rotation and the direction is described as for a turn. You would usually pivot c on the r foot and a on the l foot but this can vary in some dances.

Pivot Turn
(Oriental Turn)

Sometimes called an oriental turn, this is a rotation of the body around one foot while moving the other foot. If turning a, facing i, and starting on the r foot, a ½ pivot turn a can be described as: Step forward on r with a ¼ pivot a, balance on l without moving it with ¼ pivot a to finish facing o.
Box step This is 4 steps in 4 beats. If starting on r the sequence is: r step forward, l cross in front and to the r of the r foot, r step back, l close. The first step is often a hop. A box step may be done slowly so that there are 2 beats per step.
Step together step This step is typically done walking forward or back but can also be done moving sideways. The rhythm is 1, 2, 3, pause (4 beats). If done moving forward starting r, the action is: r walk forward, l close, r walk forward, pause. Note that the rhythm is more important that the placement of the 2nd step which can often be ahead of the first step if that flows better. If moving sideways, the action is: r open, l close, r open, pause, which means that the next action will start on the l foot in this case. Sideways actions can also be crossing – for example: r open, l cross, r open, pause. The cross may be behind or in front. In this case each action will be noted in the dance description.
Cha-Cha or Samba
Open Cha-Cha
Crossing Cha-Cha
This is typically a fast step and comes from the Cha Cha Cha ballroom dance step. It can be described as quick, quick, slow, where the quick steps occupy ½ a beat and the slow a full beat. It can also be thought of as being done to a 1, 2, 3, pause rhythm and in some ways is similar to the Step together step action. However, there is an emphasis on the first step and it is usually done quickly with half a beat per step. It is often done on the spot, that is, not moving in any direction and the whole sequence is often repeated starting with the opposite foot. The action is basically a weight transfer from r to l to r and then a pause (if starting on the r foot). It can be done moving sideways, forwards or back as well as on the spot.
When going sideways, an open Cha-Cha implies an "open, close, open, pause" sequence of steps, for example going to your r starting on the r foot. A crossing Cha-Cha implies that the first step is a cross in front, for example going to your r starting on the l foot. This could be described as: "l cross f, move other foot behind and slightly to r of l foot, l cross f, pause".
Side Yemenite This step is done to a 1, 2, 3, pause rhythm. It can be done to the l or the r.
For a l side Yemenite: l open, r balance, l cross in front of r, pause.
Note that there are only 3 steps but they are always done in 4 beats – there is always a pause at the end of the sequence.
For a r side Yemenite: r open, l balance, r cross in front of l, pause.
Yemenite steps are often done in pairs. Due to there being only 3 steps, a r side Yemenite is often immediately followed by a l side Yemenite. Note that if the side Yemenite step is repeated the way it is described above, you would gradually creep forward due to the crossing step. Thus it is common to modify the second step (the balance) so that it is slightly behind the body so that the crossing step will move you slightly to the left or right but not forward or back.
Back Yemenite

This step is done to a 1, 2, 3, pause rhythm.
For a l back Yemenite: l step back, r close, l step forward, pause
For a r back Yemenite: r step back, l close, r step forward, pause.
The body should display a rocking action as you move back and then forward. The 2 back steps should be on the balls of your feet.
A variation of this step is sometimes: l step back, r rock forward (foot stays in same place), l step forward (back to where it started), pause.

Behind and in front This is like a back Yemenite step but done while moving sideways and the 1st and 3rd steps are a crossing action. If moving to the r, the action is: l cross behind, r open, l cross in front, pause.
Open cross back This combination of steps appears in many dances and is usually followed with the same pattern on the other foot. It is often done immediately after a full turn in 2. There are 3 steps to 3 beats. The sequence to the r is: r open, l cross in front, r rock back. This would often be followed by: l open, r cross in front, l rock back.
Step behind step touch
This step sequence is to the left or right side and consists of the following steps.
To the r: r open, l cross behind, r open, l touch next to r. Note that as the last step is a touch, the same foot is used for the next step.
To the l: l open, r cross behind, l open, r touch next to l.
The arms are typically held horizontally to each side at shoulder height, with hands on the shoulders of the people next to you.
Na'ale Na'ale This step consists of 3 walking steps (starting on either foot) in 3 beats and on the 4th beat, you pivot 180 degrees (½ turn) on the foot that took the third step. This usually repeats coming back to your starting position where you pivot another 180 degrees back to face the direction you started. If the third step is on your r, then the pivot is c. If the third step is on your l, then the pivot is a. Note that some dances only use half of this step (walk, walk, walk, pivot) with another step sequence following - in this case the step is described as Na'ale.
Heel toe and If starting on your r, place your r heel on the floor in front of you and look up - this is usually 2 beats. Then step on the ball of your r foot slightly behind you for 1 beat while looking down and then step on your l foot for 1 beat. Thus the rhythm is 1, pause, 3, 4.
Kick ball step For the r, kick out in front with the r foot, then step on the ball of the r foot next to the l and then step on the l foot on the spot, then pause. The rhythm is 1, 2, 3, pause.
Jump Move quickly off the ground by bending and then extending both legs together.
Hop Like a jump but on one foot only.
Skip Take a step and quickly hop on the same foot.
Sit Jump (or just step) onto both feet at the same time with legs apart and bend the knees as if to sit down. This is often followed by a pause and then a hop on one or other of the feet.
Debka Lifting and straightening of the r knee (kicking action) while bouncing (hopping) on the l leg.(on the first count), followed by a step onto the r foot (on count of 2). May start with the other foot. If followed by another Debka, start on the other foot.
Eshebo Kick r foot across body followed by step onto r next to l, then onto l, then pause. Count is 1, 2, 3, pause.
Camel Hop onto the r leg while lifting the l (on count of 1) followed by jumping back onto the l (on count of 2).

Partner Steps

Note that in partner dances, both boy and girl normally start on their outside feet, that is boy on l and girl on r and their steps are often mirror images of each other.

Standard Hold (P) Boy facing girl. Boy's l arm is held out to the l side bent at the elbow with l hand holding girl's r hand at about shoulder height. Boy's r arm around girl with hand just below l shoulder blade. Girl's l hand behind boy's r shoulder with her l arm supported by his r.
Israeli Hold (P) Boy raises l hand above head and holds girl's l. Boy's r hand is around girl's waist on the small of her back and girl's r hand is around boy's waist in a similar position.
Open Hold (P) Boy and girl face each other and hold hands at waist height. Boy's l to girl's r and boy's r to girl's l.
Sweetheart or Varsouvienne Position (P) Boy stands to l of girl and slightly behind her. Boy's r hand holds girl's r hand at her r shoulder. l hands are held in front of boy at chest height.
Promenade Hold (P) Hands are in a standard hold but the bodies form a V with the boy's r side next to the girl's l side at the apex of the V. Both are facing towards the opening of the V, ready to walk in that direction.
Pressure turn (P) This is a full turn c in 2 steps while holding your partner in a standard hold (pressed together to make the turn easier). For the first step, the boy steps with his l foot positioned to the l of the girl and the girl with her r foot placed between the boy's feet. Both perform a ½ pivot on that foot while taking another step around on their opposite feet with another ½ pivot on the second step to complete the turn. Normally performed while traveling a around the circle line.
Dosey-Do (P) Both start on same foot. When starting with r foot, boy stands facing girl but with girl to his r so that both r shoulders are roughly in line. Both boy and girl do a large box step so that they move past each other, then are back to back and then finish up where they started.
Paso doblé (P) Boy and girl change places in 4 steps while both do a ½ turn – boy turns c with girl on his r, girl turns a. Hold hands in front of each other, boy's l to girl's r, boy's r to girl's l. Boy's steps are: l rock b, r walk, l walk and pivot c, r rock b. Girl's steps are: r rock back, l walk, r walk and pivot a, l rock back.
Wrap the girl (P) In an open hold, the girl turns a to face the same direction as the boy (typically in 2 steps). Do not release hands so the boy's r arm is wrapped around the girl's waist from behind holding her l, and the girl's l arm is wrapped in front of her body holding the boy's r. During the turn, the boy's l and girl's r hands go over the girl's head. They finish held in front just below chest height.
Lambada (P) Hands in standard hold. Do a full turn c in 4 steps. Boy starts on l, girl on r. Body has a rocking motion from left to right for each step (l when boy steps on l).

Common Step Combinations

There are a number of step combinations that are so common that they have been given a name which sometimes relates to either the dance that they derived from or a choreographer who uses them frequently.

Avi Perez Going to l or r starting on r: Open Cha-Cha to side, cross b, rock f. Repeat starting on other foot and going in the opposite direction. When you cross b, you often do ¼ pivot (a if cross is on l foot), and then pivot back on the rock f. There are 2 beats for the Cha-Cha (1, 2, 3, pause) and 1 beat each for the other 2 steps. When done in a partner dance, boy and girl face each other during the Cha-Cha and are on opposite feet.
Eretz Eretz Typically facing i and travelling a starting on r: Open, cross b, open with 1/2 pivot c, open, cross b, open with 1/2 pivot a. These 6 steps are done without pauses to 6 counts. This step comes from the dance Eretz Eretz.
Remez (P)

Face partner in standard hold with girl to boy's l.
Boy: l step f to r of girl, r rock b. Girl: r step b, l rock f.
Cha-cha while doing ½ turn a. Girl finishes on r of boy.
Boy: r step f to l of girl, l rock b. Girl: l step b, r rock f.
Cha-cha while doing ½ turn c. Finish in starting position.

Shir Open r and lift, pause while lifting l leg behind, l cross b, r rock f. Often repeats to the other side starting on other foot. Can start on either foot. The rhythm is 1, pause, 3, 4.
Standard (P) Boy and girl are facing each other in an open hold. Boy starts on l and is moving to his l, girl to r, on opposite feet. Open, cross b, open, cross f, pressure turn, boy walks for 2 while girl does full turn c. One beat per step.