How to be a dancing bear

Dancing bears – Bear Conservation

Dancing sloth bear & handler (2006) (Rhealopez 168 – Creative Commons Licence)


Thanks to hard work by a number of animal charities working with governments, dancing bears may hopefully soon be a thing of the past.  A survey sponsored by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) in 1995 put the number of dancing bears in India at 1,200.  By 2010 this figure is believed to have fallen to 10 to 15 bears in India and Nepal.  However, the practice also continues in a number of other Asian and European countries and as recently as 2007 a public outcry ensued following the use of dancing bears by street entertainers in Spain.


During the Middle Ages dancing bears were a common and popular form of street entertainment throughout Europe and Asia.  By the fifteenth century the practice was far less common in western Europe, although there were still dancing bears in Britain in the late nineteenth century (the practice was outlawed in 1911).   Closely linked with traveling shows and individual entertainers it seems that the majority of dancing bear trainers were Romany people from eastern Europe and Asia.  Dancing bears remained a common sight in eastern Europe and many parts of Asia well into the late twentieth century.

Dancing bears were captured from the wild as cubs and both brown and sloth bears (and possibly Himalayan black bears) were used.  Syrian brown bear cubs were taken from the mountains of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey and sloth bear cubs from the jungles of the Indian sub-continent.  The practice of taking brown bear cubs to train as dancing bears is continuing in Siberia.

Training practices

Following the capture of a cub or cubs in the wild, during which the mother is likely to be killed, the young animals are commonly prepared for training by having their claws trimmed or removed and a number of their teeth removed.  A ring is then inserted into the bear’s nose and a muzzle placed on the snout.   Training and subsequent manipulation is carried out through the infliction of pain using a staff attached to a rope which is in turn attached to the nose ring

Typically bears would be taught to dance by placing them onto platforms of metal above large piles of burning logs.  As the metal became hot the bears would be forced onto their hind legs by the use of the pole and nose ring and would then begin lifting each paw in turn to relieve them from the heat. As the process continued a drum or other music was played which, over a number of weeks and months, the bear came to associate with the pain in its feet.  Subsequently whenever the bear heard the drum or music it would begin to “dance”.

Current situation

Whilst huge progress has been made towards eradicating dancing bears from the world the practice continues in a number of countries.  The latest information from the countries in which the practice continued into the twenty-first century is as follows:

  • Bulgaria:  Reports indicate that the last dancing bears were rescued in 2007, but see also this article about a more recent rescue of a captive bear.
  • India:  Illegal but the poaching and use of bears for street entertainment continues to a limited extent (possibly 15 or less bears).  Four bears were rescued in an anti-poaching operation in February 2013.
  • Nepal:  Sloth bears are poached for training as dancing bears in India – see the above link.  Eight bears were rescued in 2010 but limited numbers are probably still extant and the 10 to 15 bears believed to remain in India may be used on both sides of the border.
  • Pakistan:  Whilst bear baiting certainly continues it is not clear if any dancing bears are still in use but it does seem likely that this is the case.
  • Serbia:  Apparently eradicated with the last dancing bears being rescued in 2012.
  • Siberia (Russia):  Little information is available but the practice of taking cubs and training them as dancing bears continues.  Yakov’s Moscow Circus was publicising the inclusion of Siberian Dancing Bears in its United States show as recently as 2010. We have obtained footage of a bear performing in St. Petersburg as recently as March 2019 (see foot of page).
  • Spain:  No reports of dancing bears since 2007 (see link in first paragraph).

The future

A number of organisations continue to work to bring an end to bear dancing, often through the provision of alternative employment opportunities for the bears’ handlers.  Increased anti-poaching patrols, particularly in India, are a key step in cutting off the supply of cubs to be trained as dancing bears.  Wherever the practice has been recently eradicated a close watch is needed in order to ensure that it does not spring up again.

Probably of most concern now is the situation in Russian Siberia.  More information is needed on the current situation and government intervention will be a necessary, but likely difficult to obtain, prerequisite for the ending of the taking of cubs and for the rescue of existing dancing bears.

Further research

Bear Conservation is currently undertaking further research into the present status of dancing bears, particularly in Russia, with a view to launching a targeted campaign to finally bring this practice to an end throughout the world.  

The Bear Conservation video below was filmed in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2019.








Dancing Bear Sign -

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A dancing bear "fell" into a camera trap in the Vishera Nature Reserve February 16, 2021 | 59.

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The bear stood on its hind legs and began to sway


Vishera Reserve shared unusual footage of camera traps. The bear's dance was caught in the camera lens. These shots were taken in the summer, but due to the inaccessibility of the reserve, the camera traps were brought only now. These are hours-long records of the life of the inhabitants of the reserve.

As 59.RU was told in the Vishera Nature Reserve, their researcher Sergei Zimin had just returned from the winter taiga, where he was conducting a tour of the territory and collecting camera traps for a report. After watching many hours of recordings, Sergei Zimin discovered unique footage. They depict the dance of a bear.

— We installed these camera traps back in July 2020. The camera is set up in such a way that the recording is turned on for movement, - they said in the reserve. “After watching four hours of video, he found amazing footage. This is the cutest video about bears! And the freshest. Why is the bear dancing? His behavior is easy to explain: he does not just scratch his back against a tree, but marks it. It is this tree that all local bears mark. In turn, they leave marks, trying to kill each other's scent. They even stand on their hind legs, because the higher the mark, the better. This is a sign of who is the boss here.

Earlier we wrote about how we managed to capture the northern lights in the Vishera Reserve.


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Veronika Svizeva

correspondent of the section "Crime"

Reserve Bear

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Dancing Bear | Jews and Jewry

Rabbi Aryeh Leib - "Zeid's Spoiler" - before becoming the famous Tzadik and miracle worker, spent seven years wandering from city to city and from village to village. He endured many hardships and lived in dire poverty. It was one of ways to cleanse his soul. But he had another reason to choose this difficult life; he wanted to see Jews in small towns and villages and tried to help them in some way.

Once, having arrived in some village, he went to a tavern, but it turned out to be closed. From a neighbor, not a Jew, he learned that the landowner had put the innkeeper in jail for non-payment of rent.

Rabbi Arye Leib learned that another Jewish family lives in this village. Not wasting time, he hurried to them in order to learn more about the poor innkeeper.

When he approached the house of a village Jew, he invited him in and accepted very warm. Rabbi Arye Leib saw a house full of children and offered to the owner - his name was Shmuel - that if he allowed him to stay, he would gladly give lessons for his children in exchange for food and bed. The Rabbi assured Shmuel that he was good. teacher.

Shmuel was happy to accept this offer.

Having agreed, Rabbi Arye Leib began to ask the owner about the poor innkeeper. He learned that the Polish landowner, like many of them, hated Jews, but did not touch the innkeeper as long as he paid him the rent. However, as only the innkeeper was late with payment, the landowner grabbed him and threw him in jail. Not Satisfied with this, he closed the tavern and, being a cruel man, threw away his wife and children, while saying that he would keep her husband in prison until the full amount of the money is paid.

“May the Almighty have pity on these unfortunates,” added Shmuel with deep sigh.

"Do you know how much the innkeeper owes him?" Rabbi Aryeh asked Leib.

“No. But I think it's a pretty big amount."

"Are there Jews here who could help?"

"Very few Jews live in this place, and they are all very poor." Then, After a pause, Shmuel sadly added: “It’s not enough trouble for us, so now the birthday of the landowner is approaching ... ".

"What does the innkeeper have to do with it?"

“Well, you see, the landowner always arranges a big holiday on the occasion of his birthday. Every year he invites all his friends, landowners, homeowners both near and far. The main entertainment on this holiday - dance of the bear. The landowner brings one of his Jewish innkeepers and orders him to get into the bearskin. "Bear" is led on a rope into the hall, and the host calls the guests one by one to enter into competition with him. One of the guests good dancer, accepts the challenge. The music starts to play and the competitors taken to dance. Each dance is performed in a special way to its own music. So, the "bear" in his dance must repeat every step and movement "partner" like a shadow. The music changes rapidly from one dance to the next, and dancers should immediately pick up the rhythm If the "bear" keeps up with the dancer, the guests applaud loudly, shower him with gifts and let him go home. If he doesn't manages to make a good performance, he gets hit with a rope on his naked body and other insulting punishments to the great delight of the guests.

“On the other hand,” continued Shmuel, “if the ‘partner’ loses, then "bear" has the right to demand remuneration."

“Understandable, understandable,” Rabbi Aryeh Leib replied thoughtfully. - Our poor the innkeeper may have to become such a "dancing bear" in the upcoming holiday. Tell me, has he ever done the bear dance before?”

“Yes, several times. He told me about it himself."

"Well, how did he do it?"

“Not so bad. He didn’t win, of course, but he wasn’t beaten either.”

Rabbi Arye Leib fell silent and thought. He was well aware that after several weeks of brutal imprisonment the innkeeper will be unable to win competition. Then he suddenly asked Shmuel: "Can you dance bear?’

“God forbid,” he was horrified. Then he added more calmly - In truth, I'm not that bad at dancing - but only on Simchas Torah and at weddings for the pleasures of the bride and groom. No, sir, God save me so that I dance for these wild Poles…” he shuddered.

Rabbi Arye Leib was silent for a while and then asked about the prison where innkeeper.

“This is a deep cellar for storing fruit and vegetables in the landlord's barn. He covered with a lid upholstered with iron rods. It has a hatch leading to a wooden ladder, and a hole through which a basket of daylight is lowered ration - bread and water - for the prisoner or prisoners who are there contained,” Shmuel explained.

“We must think of something to help the poor innkeeper,” muttered Rabbi Aryeh Leib.


Rabbi Arye Leib settled in Shmuel's house in a comfortable private room where he could calmly pray, study and teach children. Most pleased with this Shmuel, and when he had time, he came to the "class" and listened to the lessons. By at night, when everyone was asleep, he stood for a long time under the door of the Rabbi's room and listened pleasant melodious voice of the tenant, when he read the Psalms or taught Talmud.

A few nights before the festival, when Shmuel stood outside the door of the room teacher, he suddenly heard the extraordinary sounds of music! Did it seem to him or were there really violin sounds? Maybe he was sleeping? No, that's right, it was real Kazachok dance music! Then - Mazurka! and then - undoubtedly Polka! Moreover, it also seemed to him that he heard the footsteps and steps of every dance! How strange...

The next morning, Rabbi Arye Leib did not show what happened that night something unusual. Shmuel did not have the courage to ask the Rabbi about happened last night. Maybe he just dreamed it.

But the "dream" was repeated on the second and then on the third night!

The next morning - it was the day before the celebration of the birthday - Rabbi Arye Leib asked Shmuel to prepare for him a long strong rope.

“Today, with God’s help, we will fulfill Mitzvah Pidyon Shvuim" - said he confided to Shmuel.

Exactly at midnight, the two of them came to the landowner's yard. His mansion was flooded lights, and you could hear the sounds of music and the voices of drunken guests. However, outside everything was quiet and dark.

Shmuel went to the barn and then to the hatch, closed with a padlock. He tied rope to the iron rod and helped the Rabbi down through the hole. Innkeeper he was terribly frightened, but the Rabbi quickly calmed him down.

“Shh, be quiet, don't make noise or ask questions,” he said. - Come on quickly change clothes; no time to waste!"

When they exchanged clothes, Rabbi Arye Leib leaned over and told the innkeeper climb on his shoulders, after which he, with the help of Shmuel, got out of basement.

“Don't forget to untie the rope and take it with you. And run to the village" - said he.


As soon as the innkeeper and Shmuel managed to hide in the dark, Rabbi Arye Leib I heard loud voices, laughter and footsteps.

The landlord's steward entered the barn with a lantern in his hand and accompanied by servants. They opened the hatch and ordered the innkeeper to get up. They handed him a bearish skin. “Get in it,” the manager said.

They led the "bear" into a large noisy hall, where the landowner and his guests looking forward to the big show.

The master asked for attention to announce the conditions of the competition.

“My friends! he said solemnly. - If the "bear" suits us well performance and will really please my distinguished guests, I will reward him freedom. But if you're disappointed, I'll reward you with the spectacle of twenty blows that this Jew will receive on his bare back. And then we'll throw it to dogs to learn how to dance!

If the "bear" wins the match, then he has the right to demand special prize - whatever his heart desires! You, my friends, will be the judges and tell me who should be declared the winner.

Then he asked his guests which of them would agree to enter the competition.

A young landowner who was considered the best dancer in the area stepped forward and offered to lead a bear dance. He looked confident that despite a large amount of wine he drank, he will be able to arrange an excellent performance.

The guests clapped their hands as the young aristocrat grabbed the leash and the musicians hit "Kazachka".

The young landowner started dancing like a real dancer, but the “bear” is definitely imitate his movements. The guests warmly applauded both.

After that the musicians played Polka. And again the "bear" followed the dancer accurately. The young landowner began to make mistakes, and the "bear" began to dance better him. Now all the applause went to the "bear".

When the musicians played the mazurka, the landowner was no longer able to lead the dance. He made one wrong move after another. Every time he was wrong The "bear" slapped him on the shoulder, which made him even more embarrassed. After after several such slaps the young landowner stumbled and fell heavily to the floor. The "bear" sat on him and crushed him to the ground.

Bravo! Bravo!" shouted the excited guests.

The owner, rather embarrassed, approached the "bear" sitting astride his guest, and said: “Get off him. I free you from prison!"

"That's not all, Your Honor," the "bear" replied.

"Not all!" repeated the loud chorus of the guests.

“I cancel your debts,” the landowner added.

"Not all, Your Honor!"

"Not all!" - thundered guests.

“What else do you want? Haven't I already rewarded you enough?" - indignant landowner.

“For me, Your Honor, the reward is quite sufficient. But what have I done for all those who suffer in prison? What about the worries of the wife and the crying of the children?

“Okay. I will return the tavern to you and lease it to you for the next two years. Is that enough for you now?"

“Good,” said the “bear,” getting up and helping his opponent up the unsteady legs.

Accompanied by loud applause, the "bear" came to the door.

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