Growing up with three older sisters and a videographer father, Lara Friedman attended a lot of bar and bat mitzvah parties. As a dancer, there was always one aspect of the parties that piqued her curiosity.
“I always thought, ‘How much fun would that be to get paid to dance at a party?’” she said. “… I just love that atmosphere and the energy that a party provides. It’s just all around a good time.”
The 22-year-old has fulfilled that dream as a dancer for DJ Mike on the Mic, Pikesville native Mike Pachino’s company. Friedman is in her last semester at Towson University, student-teaching to become a certified K-12 dance teacher. She dances at DJ Mike’s events on the weekends.
Pachino says most of his dancers are in some kind of dance education program, either at Towson or Loyola universities, or work in other entertainment capacities. One dancer works for Disney cruises, and Pachino has had Ravens cheerleaders work for him as well.
Pachino started out in the party business at age 11 by helping his father’s company, Entertainment by Joe Pachino. These days, the two companies share dancers, and Friedman is one of DJ Mike’s favorites.
“She really knows how to get them going,” he said.
As Friedman explains, working a party, and getting the crowd going, takes a lot more than simply showing up and dancing.
Friedman and the other dancers — there are two or three at each gig — wear all black, and DJ Mike gives them sparkly sequined tops to wear, usually ones that match the party’s colors.
To kick the party off, they’ll often dance to an energizing song and try to get the guests involved by doing some moves with easy hand gestures that even the most uncoordinated can follow. The dancers make sure the party flows well, from dancing to popular music, to the horah, to the candle lighting, to dinner and dessert.
“A big part of our job is the horah … We’re supposed to make sure everyone’s grabbing hands,” Friedman said. “We join in for the horah; [at this point] we’re a part of the party.”
DJ Mike has a particular way he likes the horah to run. The dancers help form two circles, one with the family in the middle and an outer circle of guests. After the chairs are raised in the air, the dancers lead them in a conga line around the room and bring them back to the dance floor to make a tunnel with their hands that the bar or bat mizvah can run though.
“Everyone really enjoys it every time,” Friedman said.
Each party is different, and the guests that are most engaged vary with the parties.
“Sometimes the boys are more into it because they’re like, ‘Yeah, I want to learn how to dance and show off these moves to impress the girls,’” she said. “Sometimes the girls stick to their little cliques.”
At some parties, the grandparents and parents are easier to engage. But the goal is always the same: to “get everyone on their feet ready to dance and ready to have a good time,” Friedman explains.
Fortunately, Friedman hasn’t experienced any bad or difficult parties. The worst situations she has encountered are when floor space is limited in restaurants, for example, and when some guests just want to sit and talk. She still tries to encourage them with hand motions and gives them party favors anyway.
“You want [to still have] a cohesive party feeling,” she said. “Everyone’s having a good time.”
Friedman has seen some pretty extreme parties. She recalls one with a sports theme that had foosball tables, a Nintendo Wii setup and raffles that included equipment, jerseys and Ravens tickets.
Friedman was brought up in a Conservative Jewish family and said the upbringing helped her with what she does now.
“Knowing the whole routine — candle lighting, what kids do, they have a speech, the horah, the challah, the motzi — just knowing that and knowing the structure of the party has helped tremendously,” she said. “And knowing how to say ‘mazel tov.’”
In college, Friedman has been active in Towson University’s Chabad and traveled on a Birthright Israel trip with the Chabad rabbi during her junior year.
“Judaism will always be a part of my life,” she said.
But will bar and bat mitvah dancing remain a part of her life once she’s out of college and teaching?
Definitely, she said. “I love it. It’s one of the best jobs ever.”
Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org