Hands clasped, feet flying, and the room spinning as the giant circle of dancers turns round and round to the pulsing klezmer music from the band. It’s the Hora–that fabulous circle dance taught at Jewish camps and Israeli dance classes everywhere. When people picture traditional Jews dancing, it’s often the Hora (or a similar circle dance) that come to mind.

The Hora, however, is not a purely Jewish form of dance. It became a Jewish folk dance only after being adopted culturally by the Jewish communities of the Balkans (such as Romania) from the dance common to that region. In fact, the word Hora is derived from the same Greek root as the word “choreography.”

While the Hora was known in the larger Jewish community in the early 20th century, it became an authentic “Jewish dance” when the first chalutzim (pioneers) in Israel claimed it as their own. The young chalutzim found that the music of the Hora (there are many songs written for Horas) was a joyful way to release the emotions of their chosen life–which was filled with physical hardship.

The dance itself is rather simple. Hands held, the dancers form a circle. The dancers then step forward toward the right, crossing the left foot over the right. The right foot sweeps around to the right while the left foot moves back a little. The steps pick up speed and the circle begins to move. Often there will be break away groups of faster dancers who move to the middle, forming concentric circles of dancers.

While the Hora may not have begun as a Jewish dance, it is now. Performed at most Jewish weddings and celebrations, the Hora is a spirited way of expressing the joy of life.