One of the defining elements of Hasidic Judaism is the giving in to the ecstatic, the pure joy of life, of being. This is manifested in the ubiquitous niggun, the wordless melodies sung in groups, or the wild dancing that can take place at joyous gatherings. It is a unique experience to see Hasidim let go and cut up the floor in dance, in one of the few moments when their ridged lifestyle allows for a release of inhibitions. But it is not really free from inhibitions, but a specific instance where a specific kind of dance is allowed as a kind of spiritual expression.
Dance for the sake of dance, as a form of artistic expression has largely been looked down upon in the Orthodox Jewish religious world. It is an art fraught with existential religious dilemmas for the believer. When your lifestyle proscribes overt, public sensuality and and/or contact between the sexes you’re options as a dancer are limited.
In “Thou Shalt Not Dance”, we meet a trio of young Orthodox men who have chosen to start a dance school for religious men. It’s important to point out here that they are identified with the National Religious stream, and not Ultra-Orthodox, Hasidic Judaism. They are a full part of Israeli society, going to university and serving in the army. However, they still adhere to similar sexual mores as those of the Ultra-Orthodox streams. That makes the decision to open such a school all the more exceptional.
In the film we follow them as they rehearse for their opening production. They will be performing in front of their families, friends and almost as important, their rabbis. The future of the school lies in the balance on how the production is received amongst their peers. We join them in their dilemmas as they seek balance between their art and as practicing Orthodox Jews.
In Israel today the concept of what it means to be a religious Jew is undergoing a major upheaval and the men of “Thou Shalt Not Dance” are piece of this conversation.
Watch the trailer: