Vol 2 No 4 Spring/Summer 2006
Dances of the “Roma” Gypsy Trail
From Rajastan to Spain:
by Miriam Peretz
The numerous dance forms of India fall into two main categories- classical and folk. Unlike the classical Indian dance forms such as Kathak and Baratanatyam, the dances of Rajasthan are folk dances, traditionally passed down through the families as opposed to being codified, and learned in a “class” setting. Within Rajasthani dance, there are many different styles-one of the most exciting and dynamic is the Kalbelia, danced by the Kalbelia people. The Kal in Kalbeliyah stands for Kali, the Black Mother Goddess of India. The dancers wear black in homage Kali. Known as the snake-charming dance, this form involves rhythmic footwork similar to other Indian dance forms, hand positions, facial expressions, spins, and acrobatic, snake like floor work. The dance is improvisational and many of the movements and gestures describe day-to- day life of the Gypsies. Some examples of these movements include the grooming of oneself, the motions of physical labor, making food, carrying baskets, etc. One of the most notable characteristics of this dance form is the extreme acrobatic positions a dancer places herself in to demonstrate her flexibility. A common move, to impress audiences is where a dancer will place a dollar bill on the ground and then pick it up with her teeth by bending backwards in a full back bend. Another highly impressive movement also seen in other Gypsy-influenced dance forms is the barrel turn. It seems evident that the vuelta caebrada (barrel turn) in Flamenco originated in Rajasthani dance.
The Kalbelia dance style is featured in the well-known film “Latcho Drom,” which follows the trail of the Gypsies from Rajasthan to Spain. This movie first inspired my interest in this form of dance. I began seeking out teachers in Israel and the U.S. who had studied dance in Rajasthan. One of my teachers Yael Moav taught me a dance that she had learned with a private teacher in Rajasthan. The dance involved an exciting variety of spins, as well as several gesturing movements. Among the interesting gestures were the motions of a woman adorning herself with bracelets, earrings, and a nose-pierce. Another teacher I found, Osnat El Kabir, is a master in Kathak dance. She also spent time in Rajasthan where she observed the various folk forms. She worked with me on creating a choreography that was not particular to any one style, but rather fused what she had seen among the different populations in Rajasthan. Although many of the tribes such as the Langra, Dhadir, and Sapera are not all Gypsies, they have very similar cultural traditions, and lifestyles living in the original homelands of the Roma. Among the movements that Osnat used in the choreography were: the carrying of a water jug on the head, the shimmying of the body from a fast paced foot stomp, simple foot work, exaggerated hip movements, the grinding of food, and the churning of ghee (or butter.) Osnat also spent time working with me on facial expressions, which mostly involved finding a playful quality, of a young girl trying to "show her stuff" but simultaneously expressing a shy quality. This playfulness is expressed through the eyes looking at the audience and then looking away, or by using the large head veil to cover and then reveal oneself.
The two Rajastani choreographies that I present in my film are a compilation of my studies and are not strictly Kalbeliya style. One of these choreographies was inspired by the Kalbeliyah dance in the film "Latcho Drom." The other choreography is a collaboration between myself and my teacher Osnat. Both pieces of music that I chose are from the "Latcho Drom" soundtrack.
The traditional instrumentation of Rajasthani music includes the Punji (gourd flute,) dholak, kanjira (drums,) and ghungroo (ankle bells.) The flute and tabla drum, are also often used by professional Rajasthani musicians.
As seen in the film "Latcho Drom," the traditional costume of the kalbeliya dance is a tunic that reaches past the hip level worn with a full-length skirt, and pants underneath the skirt. The skirt has quite a bit of fabric so that when the dancer spins it will flare out. The skirt also has a zigzag pattern that may represent water in the desert, and also looks beautiful when the dancer spins. The color of the costume is black, embroidered with many ribbons of bright colors, and worn with heavy jewelry. The dancer often has bells on her ankles, and wears ivory bracelets all the way up her entire arm length. Today these bracelets are often made from plastic, and are worn by many of the Rajastani tribes, most notably the Banjara. The dancer also has a large head veil attached with a crown of jewels at her forehead. This costume is not easily accessible since it is not sold, but rather made personally by the dancer.
1. Latcho Drom, film produced by Tony Gatlif
2. Romani Trail, Part I & II, film produced by Jeremy Marre Co., 1992
3. Khalbelias - Gypsies of Rajastanby Melitta Tchaicovsky Co., 2001
4. Interview of Amy Luna Manderino (Director of Shuvani - Dances of the Roma)
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