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Europe

Romani dance forms

Performances in
World Arts West Programs
Dances of the Romani Trail
Performers
Shuvani
Instruments Used
Accordion
Balalaika

The Romani Trail

Linguistic and anecdotal evidence suggests that the Roma or "Gypsies" originated in India and first migrated into southwest Asia approximately 1000 years ago. Continued persecution from local populations dispersed the Roma further through Europe and North Africa in the 14th century. The path created by the resulting migration is often referred to as the Romani or "Gypsy" Trail. Shuvani's repertoire includes Romani dances from India, Turkey, Russia, Egypt and Spain. The slang term "Gypsy" originated from an early mistaken belief that the ethnicity originated in Egypt and is generally considered a pejorative term, the preferable self-appelation determined by the World Romani Congress being Roma or Romani, which may also be spelled Rroma, Rromani or Romany.
 
Roma music and dance is as varied as the number of countries in which the Roma dwell. Yet each form of Roma expression retains some common characteristics. These include a knack for improvisation, unabashed  self-expression, playfulness, wit, and themes of persecution. The dance  incorporates fancy leg movement, quick and rhythmic footwork, playing  with the skirt, coy facial expressions and arms held high. Roma music  and dance is a community expression, where both performer and onlooker  experience the lamentations and celebrations of Roma life.

See also the continents of Asia for more information on the countries that the Roma passed through, since the Romani Trail spans more than one continent.

Here are four dances that are part of the Romani Trail dances:
 
Rajasthani Kalbeliya

The popular image of the "snake charmer" originates from the Kalbeliya tribe of Rajasthan in Northern India, thought to be the "Gateway of the Gypsies" due to the belief that the Roma diaspora began there in the 11th century.  Kalbeliya dancers wear black in homage to the Mother Goddess Kali, from whom the tribe derives their name. In this dance, performers twirl ecstatically and stomp the earth in costumes of ornate embroidery and intricate beadwork while conjuring "kundalini" or "serpent power."

Turkish Rom

Sulukule is a legendary district of Istanbul known for centuries for its famous Romani musicians and dancers. Foreign visitors writing of the exotic dancing reported of "suggestive contortions, a good deal of stomach play and twisting of the body, falling upon the knees with the trunk held back to the extent that the spectators were encouraged to put a coin on their forehead." Expressing passion and joy, this lively dance in the Turkish 9/8 rhythm is characterized by playful hand gestures that often mimic events from daily life.  

Russian Rom

The Russian styles of Romani dance are famous for whirlwind spins, flamboyant skirt flourishes and graceful arm movements influenced by Russian ballet.  Also drawing on the tradition of Russian Character dancing, the performers often act out specific situations in "character" using pantomime and comedy to enhance the dance presentation.  The variations in tempo, from slow and deliberate to a frenzied finish,convey both the artistry of the dancer and the cathartic release of the dance.

For More information on Russian dance, see the Russian dance discipline.

Spanish Flamenco
 
Under threat of persecution from church and state authorities in Spain during the 16th century, "Gitanas", Muslims, and Jews came together to help each other survive, and within this melding of cultures Flamenco was born.  Flamenco dancers physically interpret the music of the singer and guitarist through movements which include percussive footwork and intricate hand, arm and body movements, the most inspired of which will conjure the "duende," or magic, of the dance. 

For more information on flamenco, see the Spanish flamenco discipline.

Thank you to Shuvani for information on Romani Trail dance forms.

In People Like Me 2007: Motion Commotion, Shuvani presents three separate female dancers, Director of the group Amy Manderino, along with Katy Alaniz Barnhill, and Elizabeth Strong, who will follow the Romani Diaspora from India, through Turkey and Russia, to Spain. The long, full flowing skirts featured in each form are traditional costumes, and further connect these diverse cultures.

(Thank you to Yaelisa for her help on flamenco choreography for this piece.)

 



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