January 19, 2020

The Amazing Bottle Dancers

The Amazing Bottle Dancers; Photo courtesy of Michael Pasternak

When corporate events entertainment producer Michael Pasternak and his fiancée, Ilisa, were planning their wedding reception 18 years ago, they wanted to add a traditional element to their contemporary celebration. Inspired by the iconic wedding sequence in “Fiddler on the Roof” where men dance with bottles balanced on their hats, they sought but could not find anyone to hire. 

Undeterred, Pasternak found some dancers on his own, stopped a Chasidic man on Fairfax to ask where to buy the proper clothing and hats, and the result was a wedding surprise that delighted everyone in attendance. “They crashed the party like a Chasidic flash mob,” Pasternak said. “It was such a hit that the calls kept coming. I knew I had something.”

Today, Pasternak has eight troupes of dancers in the United States, including in southern and northern California, plus one in Toronto. Bookings also have included weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs in London and Paris, and events in Portugal and Tel Aviv are pending. “It’s become an international sensation,” he said. “It’s taken the world by storm.”

You don’t have to be Jewish to be captivated. One recent booking was for a backyard wedding for a non-Jewish couple. They set up a scenario in which the dancers got lost looking for a bar mitzvah, but decided to stay and perform.

In addition to those planning weddings and b’nai mitzvot, those in charge of synagogue banquets, fundraisers, holiday parties and other events hire Pasternak’s dance crews, which run the gamut from frum Jews to gentiles. “When we appear at Kiddush luncheons on Shabbos, the frum dancers can’t appear,” he said.

Usually, only the hirers know about the surprise intrusion that includes the bottle dance, leading into the traditional horah and hoisting bar and bat mitzvah honorees on thrones for their grand entrances. Some people opt to add a dance-off battle between the bottle dancers and the DJ’s dance crew.

“People are looking for something fun and different, and that’s what we bring to the table. It adds something unique to the typical simcha,” Pasternak said. “Great food and great music is expected. We are the unexpected.”

He emphasized that the bottle dancers fit in well with themed and otherwise contemporary events, and appeal equally to the bar mitzvah kids’ friends and their bubbes. “We’re not monopolizing the entire event; we’re adding a little Jewish touch,” he said. “We tap into a sense of tradition. We bring fun and excitement, that special moment that everyone remembers and talks about. We bring that magic.”

Jewish tradition is very important to Pasternak, who is descended from a long line of Orthodox rabbis and chazzans on his mother’s side. He never met his grandfather, “but I feel that all this Yiddishkayt and affinity for liturgical music and all things Jewish is in my DNA,” Pasternak said. Of Russian and Polish ancestry, he was born and raised in New York in a family that became “a little more Conservative” than the previous generation. A Los Angeles resident since 1978, he met Ilisa, who now works with him at Michael Pasternak Productions, on JDate, later discovering that they lived within walking distance of each other in Sherman Oaks.

The parents of two sons, Darren, 11, and Garrett, 15 (yes, his bar mitzvah party included the Amazing Bottle Dancers), the Pasternaks are members of the Kol Tikvah congregation in Woodland Hills. “We’re not frum, but we light the candles every Friday night and have Shabbos dinner,” Pasternak said, adding that raising the boys with Jewish traditions and values is “a thousand percent” essential to him.

Pasternak confided that he’d never been into social media, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s viral hit video of his wedding party performing “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof” inspired him to post video of his bottle dancers along with testimonials from customers raving about them on his website. “The video has over 4 million views to date,” he said. Going forward, he hopes to expand the business and continue to bring joy and tradition to milestone celebrations.

“When people call or send emails saying, ‘You made my party’ or ‘my wedding,’ it’s so fantastic,” he said. “The logistics of putting this together are not easy. There are a lot of moving parts on our end to coordinate, even though it seems so simple. But it’s all worthwhile when you get those messages. It puts a smile on my face that we’re touching people with what we’re doing.”

For more information about the Amazing Bottle Dancers, call (800) 716-0556 or visit bottledancers.com.