Shir HaHaflaga

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Hebrew: שיר ההפלגה. Song of Sailing

Dance by Shmulik Gov-Ari. Although the dance is only of medium difficulty, the way that the figures of the dance fit the music is quite complicated.

The complexity starts with the music itself, which was composed by Alexander (Sasha) Argov (סשה ארגוב), composer of Kayits Al Ha'Ir, Teivat HaZimra, Lech LaMidbar, and many others. Argov is "known for being extremely sensitive to lyrics, both their meaning and their rhythm. . . . In complex songs like Argov's, there is likely to be some interesting tension between the poetic and musical meter."[1]

The choreographer extends Argov's technique to the dance, whose comparatively regular figures mask the meter of the music, leading to a striking entanglement.

The Music and the Dance

The introduction consists of three-count measures, two phrases of four measures each. The second phrase starts with the singers voicing "Mandolina Mandolina" for four counts. Some dancers count to eight immediately thereafter in order to start the dance correctly (4+8=12), obscuring the music's meter.

Following the intro, the song consists of eight phrases, having successively 10, 12, 9, 11, 13, 12, 13, and 12 counts.

How does the dance set down against this music? Recall the sections of the dance, lightly sketched:

  • I.A: Right hop, cross, etc., ending with "hoo-hah": 10 counts
  • I.B: Two mayims, followed by pas de basques R-2-3 and L-2-3: 12 counts
  • Repeat I.A: 10 counts
  • Repeat I.B, except that instead of the pas de basques just rock back, forward: 10 counts

Part I has 22 counts, 10+12. The first time through, this fits exactly the first two phrases of the music, also 10+12.

The repetition of Part I is done to the third and fourth phrases of music, which also total 20 counts. But this 20 is 9+11, so we start with 10 counts of dance against a 9-count musical phrase. If you listen carefully, you'll hear that the first "hoo-hah" ends at the end of a phrase of music, but the second "hoo-hah" encroaches one count into the following phrase.

The dance continues:

  • II.A: Into the center with 2 cha-chas, both feet out, both together, lift R: 7 counts
  • Repeat II.A, backing out of the center: 7 counts
  • II.B: Two pas de basques followed by two mayims: 12 counts
  • II.C: Rock back-forward, then go into the center, turn to face out: 8 counts
  • Repeat II.C, coming out of the center: 8 counts
  • II.D: Rock back-forward, then one and a half mayims: 8 counts

The total is 50 counts, the same as the music's 13+12+13+12. But the sections of the dance do not line up with the music in any way. Again: Listen carefully, and you'll hear the musical phrases starting a few counts before or after the dance sections.

(It's possible to break up this part of the dance differently, putting each rock back-forward at the end of a section instead of the beginning. But the dance still won't line up with the music.)

Reference and Notes

  1. Naftali Wagner, Prosody Transforms Into Music, Mossad Bialik, 2005

A biography of Sasha Argov.

The lyrics to Shir HaHaflaga are by the great poet and author Leah Goldberg, winner of the Israel Prize and lyricist of Slichot, Mizmor Laila, Boi Kallah, and many others. A version of these lyrics was set to music by Akiva Nof; the dance done to that tune is called Shlosha Tranim LaOniya (שלושה תרנים לאוניה) and was choreographed by Eli Ronen.

Shir HaHaflaga at

Video at Rokdim