Vol 2 No 4 Spring/Summer 2006
Dances of the “Roma” Gypsy Trail
From Rajastan to Spain:
by Miriam Peretz
For centuries, Gypsies have been famous for their outstanding abilities in the arts, particularly dance and music. Although their origins and migration patterns remain somewhat unclear, historical accounts show that Gypsies first originated in Rajastan, northern India where they were called Rom, meaning “man.” Over the centuries, Gypsies migrated out of India for various reasons including- wars, famine, and in search of work. Some of the first migrations of tribes leaving India recorded are in the 5th century A.D. The first tribes migrated west, through Afghanistan and Persia, and on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean their paths divided. At the crossroads of Palestine, they split and some went north into Europe, while others went through Palestine into Egypt and North Africa. Historical records show Spanish Gypsies coming from both Europe as well as from Morocco. Many of the famous Spanish Gypsies sing about their origins from Egypt. Having no real written history, the Gypsies have used music, dance, and puppetry to pass their stories on from generation to generation. For this reason, it is sometimes difficult to know any exact facts about their history, and it is more accurate to make speculations.
Gypsies first arrived in Europe early in the 12th century. By the 16th century, they had spread through all of Europe where they made important contributions especially in the areas of music, dance, and entertainment. They were discriminated against, held as slaves, and exploited, as Gypsies have often been wherever they have gone. They also have remained isolated by refusing to conform to society’s conventional morals and values.
The Roma people see themselves as special and different from the non-gypsies, whom they call gadjo. The term gadjo literally means “peasant” or “farmer,” but in the Gypsy use of the word, it has a derogatory connotation. During Hitler's rule of Germany, around 400,000 Gypsies (1/5 of European Roma) were killed, in the same ways as the Jews. Since the revolutions in Europe in 1989, they continue to be outsiders and scapegoats for many problems while at the same time romanticized for being wild and passionate artists. Gypsies are a unique example of an ethnic group that has succeeded in making a huge migration around the world without loosing their original identity and customs, much like the Jewish people who also have lived in a Diaspora for many centuries. Also similar to the Jewish people, the Gypsies were discriminated against wherever they went.
Throughout their travels, the Gypsies incorporated and fused elements from various cultures music and dance forms they encountered. They also contributed and influenced the arts in dramatic ways that continue today. Today there are about ten million gypsies accounted for scattered around the world. Because of inter-marriage, it is difficult to have an exact population account.
While Roma is the general term for Gypsies that originated in Rajastan, there are many different names used in different regions where they have settled. Rom or Romani refers to the Gypsies whom migrated to Western Europe, including Spain, and Turkey. Gypsies of Middle Eastern decent are known as Dom or Domari. Dom comes from the Sanskrit word “to resound,” which is fitting for a people who live through song and dance. Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Armenia are known as Lom or Lomari. The Romani dialect is based off the Hindi language. The Hindu religion is very much a part of the Gypsies superstitions and belief system. The ancient goddess Kali, otherwise known as Sara, or the black virgin is worshipped by Gypsies all over. Many of the dance and music forms developed and preserved by the Roma people have maintained their integrity as well as gained enormous amounts of popularity amongst non-Gyspy communities. This is especially true of Flamenco that has become one of the most internationally popular ethnic music and dance forms.
Among the numerous dance and music styles found within the Roma tradition, this paper will focus on: Rajasthani, Egyptian “Ghawazi,” Turkish “Roman”, Balkan “cocek” and Flamenco dance. These forms have intrigued me for years inspiring me to both, research their origins, as well as learn their authentic movements. In this intensive research process, I have studied several texts and articles written about Gypsy dance, viewed original video footage, and documentaries, traveled to Spain, Egypt, and Turkey (to study with master teachers.) Recently, I have synthesized this information in the creation of my own choreographies for performance.
Over the course of the past several years, I have worked with various dance companies that represent forms of Roma dance. I danced for several years with “Aywah” Ethnic Dance Company, based in the Bay Area. Under the direction of Katarina Burda, “Aywah” is unique in its preservation of the authentic dance, music, and costuming of Egyptian, North African, Turkish, and Balkan Roma traditions. Growing up the daughter of folk musicians, Katarina Burda grew up understanding the great importance of music and dance. In her early twenties, she began studying and performing Middle-Eastern dance with Jamila Salimpour. Katarina performed with Jamila’s company “Bal Anat” performing at the Reinasance fairs, as well as at several clubs in San Francisco. These clubs included; Taverna Asena, The Bagdad, The Casbah, and The Sheherazad, none of which remain today. Katarina started her own troupe “Inana” in the early 1970’s, which lasted about five years. In 1993, she established “Aywah” which performed throughout the Bay Area up until 2004. I danced at “Aywah’s” last performance in 2004 at Open Secret. One of the most valuable traits that I admire about Katarina is her high standard for dancers. Not only does she expect them to know the correct dance steps appropriate to each dance style, but also to learn the traditional songs to accompany the dancers in performance, be able to accompany the dancers through playing percussive instruments such as sagat (finger cymbals,) wooden spoons, drumming, and clapping, and to sew their own unique costumes. She also encouraged the dancers to improvise, teaching us the skill to create our own choreographies to perform. I think that her holistic approach to teaching gave us the most in depth experience of the art form.
In Israel, I performed for many years with “Arabesque” Dance Company, under the direction of Yael Moav. “Arabesque” repertoire focuses on Egyptian “cabaret,” folklore, as well as other Middle-Eastern dance styles. I have continued to work with Arabesque as a visiting soloist and choreographer for the company. During my last visit summer of 2004, I set an Egyptian “Saidi” choreography on the company based off my studies on Saidi and Ghawazi dance in Egypt.
Another group that I worked with is “Shuvani” (meaning wise women in the Romani language,) under the direction of Amy Luna Manderino. Based in the Bay Area, Shuvani performs dances of the four countries discussed in this essay: Rajasthan, Egypt, Turkey, and Spain. Through their performances, Shuvani seek to dispel the pervasive and harmful “Gypsy” stereotypes and to celebrate the rich heritage and community spirit of the authentic arts of the Romani Trail. My past collaborations with Shuvani, Aywah, and Arabesque have given me inspiration in the creation of this senior project.
Currently I am working as a soloist both performing the various Roma dance styles that I have learned as well as searching for new and creative ways to fuse and integrate their forms. In my creative journey as a dancer, I have come across some skepticism and critique. On one hand many cultural “purists” are closed-minded and do not tolerate “fusion,” as they view this as a diluting of the art form. On the other hand holding to the absolute traditions often becomes boring to the Western audience who is often times unable to appreciate the subtleties of Roma dance styles. These forms also have different meaning when performed outside of their countries of origin. Through my personal process, I have found it crucial to find ways to integrate my past dance experience and training to find personal meaning in each dance form.
Although writing this paper has been quite challenging because of the disputed opinions and different accounts, it has provided me with great inspiration to continue to study and deepen my knowledge in the subject. It is crucial for me to note that within my research, there have been many conflicting facts and I have done my best to represent what seems the most valid according to my understanding. My hope is that this paper and DVD series will be a helpful teaching tool, to provide my students with insight in their search to learn about these dance forms. My understanding and appreciation for these beautiful dance traditions continues to grow as I internalize them and look for inspiration in the creation of new dances and choreography.
Resources/References 1. Arabesque Magazine Series: A Magazine of International Dance Volume VII-1982: “Sing Gypsy! Dance Gypsy!” by Suheyla (Kate McGowan) Volume X-1985: “Encounters With Dance Immortals: La Argentinita and Carmen Amaya” by La Meri Volume XI-1985: “A Party in Luxor” by, Habiba (Barbara Siegal) “Arab influences in Spanish Music, Song, and Dance,” by Habeeb Salloum 2. “Cocek as a Ritual Dance Among Gypsy Women,” by, Elsie Dunin Co.1973 3. “The Gypsies,” by Jean Paul Clebert (translated by Charles Duff) Co.1961 4. “Flamenco” by Gwynne Edwards Co., 2000 5. “Serpent of the Nile,” by Wendy Buonaventura Co., 1989 6. “Latcho Drom,” film produced by Tony Gatlif 7. “Romani Trail Part I & II,” film produced by Jeremy Marre Co., 1992 8. “Khalbelias-Gypsies of Rajastan,” by Melitta Tchaicovsky Co., 2001 Interviews 1. Mustafa Hepokur (Turkish Gypsy Musician) 2. Reyhan (Turkish Gypsy dancer) 3. Cyrelle Soffer (Balkan dancer) 4. Amoun Sleem (Director of the Domari society of Jerusalem) 5. Katarina Burda (Director of Aywah Ethnic Dance Company) 6. Amy Luna Manderino (Director of Shuvani- Dances of the Roma) 7. Michaela Harrari (Director of Pasos Flamenco Company) Photo Credits 1. “Serpent of the Nile,” by Wendy Buonaventura Co.,1989 2. Arabesque Magazine Series: A Magazine of International Dance 3. Barbara Framm- Private Collection 4. Miriam Peretz –Private Collection (Photography by Gali Tibbon) 5. “Flamenco” by Gwynne Edwards Co., 2000
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