The Truth Behind Fiddler on the Roof’s “Bottle Dance” Scene


Bernie Mermelstein is the owner and chief executive officer of MZ Berger & Co., a leading accessory company based in Long Island, New York. An avid singer in his free time, Bernie Mermelstein particularly enjoys Jewish music and cites Fiddler in the Roof as his favorite Broadway show.

Fiddler in the Roof is a musical based on a series of Yiddish short stories, and it has become one of the most popular musicals of all time. Songs such as “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset” have become a staple in Broadway collections, and some of its numbers have even become iconic, such as the famous “Bottle Dance” scene.

However, this bottle dance scene, inasmuch as it sounds and looks Jewish, is not a traditional Jewish folk dance. Rather, it is an original creation of the director-choreographer Jerome Robbins. Robbins, who had previously worked in other musicals such as West Side Story and Gypsy, drew choreography inspiration from a man he saw in an Orthodox Jewish wedding celebration. The man was pretending to be inebriated and was tottering a bottle on his head, to everyone’s entertainment. Robbins turned this inspiration into an elaborate number featuring four dancers performing precise movements.