Author with Jalilah and Hadia
Choudhury and Tracey Vibert (of Ottawa)
Review on the “Journey Along The Gypsy Trail” Workshop
Jalilah Zamora, and Amrita Choudhury
Event held on
5, 6, 2008, in Montreal, Canada
Photos by Denise and Tracey Vibert
Santa was very good
to me this past Christmas. In early December 2007, I
received an email on an actual gypsy workshop. I could
hardly believe my eyes. It had been a long time since
I had seen a gypsy workshop. I have managed to take a
few over the last ten years. One with Eva
and one with Dalia
Carella (Dunyavi) so I had enough to tempt
me further but real gypsy style instruction doesn’t happen
Would it be real gypsy?
I only had to look at the sender of the email to know that
it would be one of the most authentic workshops I could ever
hope to take.
performer, instructor and choreographer, is one of the
most absolute extremists for authenticity in every bit
of dance she has ever undertaken.
Learning a series
of steps seems to be never enough for her. Hadia always
goes further and learns the history, sociology and anthropology
to accompany the dance. She is the closest to a dance scholar
that I have ever had the pleasure from which to learn. I
knew that this workshop would be comprehensive and authentic
I could take that to the studio and to my students and know
it was true.
My second present
came from Pere Noel who sent me to Montreal
to learn gypsy or danse gitanes, as the French call it.
Journey Along The
Gypsy Trail spanned two days and was in 4 sections. Most
agree that the gypsies originated in India so what better
place to start than with master Rajasthan dance instructor
Amrita Choudhury. While learning basic
mudras (specific hand positions) and body movements, I learned,
perhaps, that it served as the first step on this journey
and became a base of understanding on how these movements
were related with the other dances of the gypsy or Rom. Amrita
is a master at her craft and translated this intriguing dance
in a way that we could understand, and more importantly physically
experience, and all in the space of a few hours.
explained that the essence of the why in any Indian
dance is to reflect the spirituality, pain, sorrow, joy
and philosophy of life so that the dance is actually a
way of life with a powerful and solid connection to mother
This is why Indian
dancers pay respect to mother earth, first to ask permission
to dance upon her, and also to ensure their feet are solidly
connecting with her, as to be one with her. As the Rajasthan
dancers and musicians traveled all the way from India to Europe
and the world, they brought a very ancient culture and spiritual
tradition with them that dated way before 5000BC. Truly
we are talking about the source of many traditions that have
been reflected in gypsy dance in Europe, the Middle East and
yes even in North America.
From India to Turkey…”Don’t
count!” cried Hadia over the pounding hypnotic music, as she
demonstrated the basic Roma steps then movements and finally
just wanted to dance so bad to Orhan Burcal that
we immediately did whatever she was doing. Yes, it was
9/8 and yes the
accents were in different places and yes the pelvis certainly
moved but as Hadia said, if we didn’t think too much and
just listened we managed to follow almost everything she
was showing us.
We danced it and danced
it until we got it. Getting it is different than parroting
a move. This is how Roma dance is taught in Turkey
where Hadia has spent many years studying.
I didn’t know that
Hadia was also a skilled therapist. She has taken her
knowledge of physiology and anatomy and translated it into
"dancerspeak" of how we actually make a movement. In her classes,
I have always been pleasantly surprised that after some fun,
unorthodox way of approaching a movement or series of movements
we all get it and fast. Go figure!
had us begin to consider the specific dance elements, gestures
positions of both Rajasthan and Turkish Rom. What
was similar and what was different? How did this
reflect the origins of a joyful people who were later displaced
a mostly silent history of persecution, survival and pride?
Day one ended with
us dragging our tired, but happy, bodies through the Montreal
winter slush to our hotel. This particular path was fortunately
along Rue Saint Denis, where all kinds of fun, ethnic shops
abound. Never too tired to shop and can never have enough
funky earrings or sparkly tattoos.
It wasn’t over yet. Angela,
an enterprising soul, decided that we should get ourselves
to a Lebanese Club with great food, and dancing. Off
we went to Nuits Mosaiques where we noshed and danced and learnt
more French. Although Hadia does not perform in the clubs
and restaurants in Montreal, she agreed to perform just for
us (and a few other admirers) with Saidi (one of my favorite
styles), Raqs Sharki and of course the one dance I wanted the
most, her interpretation of Oum Kalthoum’s Huwa
you ever cried because of a dance? I love dance. I
am passionate about it, but I never believed a dancer could
make me cry until Hadia…and I wasn’t the only one.
Not enough sleep later,
but seriously inspired, we started on Ghawazee, the Gypsy dancers
of Egypt, with Jalilah on Sunday morning. Sometimes life
is really, really good.
According to Alain
Weber, music ethnologist and artistic director of
“Musicians of the Nile,”… “today it is known that the
Ghawazee are indeed of Rom Gypsy origin, belonging to the
Nawar tribe and
sometimes to the Halab and Bahlawanat tribes.” Jalilah
is unquestionably famous for her music and her dance but not
more so than for her knowledge of Ghawazee, which comes from
direct and extensive experience of studying and performing
with the great Egyptian singer Metkal
Kanawi and his Musicians of the Nile in Luxor,
Jalilah took us through
a number of combinations with zills. Again we discussed
what was similar, now compared to both the uplifting Rajasthan
dance and the more powerful, mysterious Turkish Rom. It
is very sad that the Ghawazee dance art is dying out
and all the more important that we recognize its great importance
not just to we, “Orientale” dancers but to the world.
The final afternoon
started with some very energetic Saidi. I keep saying
I am getting too old for this but how can you sit still with
such driving music. Explaining how the movements, attitudes
and music of Said is often overlooked in presentations of gypsy
or Rom, Hadia went on show the connections between the dances
of Upper Egypt and the Turkish Roma and Rajasthan dances.
The last steps were
of Flamenco, again with Hadia, a Flamenco dancer of over 20
years. She has actually lived in Spain learning from
many of the great Spanish Gypsy masters. Our journey had started
in India with wide eyed, expressive dance full of joy and even
innocence. Through centuries and untold history, that
can only hint of terrible persecution, we see the dance transform
into the earthy, visceral Gypsy Rom dance of Turkey,
the rhythmic Egyptian Ghawazee and the playful Saidi, now to
end this journey with the powerful, defiant and passionate
Flamenco of Spain.
Flamenco, the dance
of the people, was originally danced barefoot. The stomps,
the artful hand floreos, body positions and the beautiful turns
remind us of earlier Rajasthan hand and body movements. The
Indian hand cymbals, the Ghawazee finger cymbals and the castanets
are three integral parts of the whole.
The passione and
angst communicated through the tension in the body speak
volumes of the Spanish history of Gypsy people, not captured
in textbooks, but in dance.
Saidi, Rajasthan, Rom all stand alone in their expressions
of music and dance but still are all connected by a thread
of unwavering, unyielding humanity. Theirs has never been an
oral or written history but rather communicated at its most
basic level, through the body, to be interpreted by those who
understand that dance is more than simple steps to music but
rather the physical manifestation of the soul.
We know that these
are more than cultural dances and if we look deeper at the why of
the style of the movement, we then begin to understand the
visceral pain and joy of the Gypsy people and honor both their
tragic, mysterious history and their undaunted spirit.
Hadia had said that
we were traveling to the source of dance. She was right.
historical information on the Ghawazee, the Nawar and Mid-Eastern
Gypsies, has been gathered by Alain Weber, music
ethnologist and artistic director of “Musicians of the Nile”.
Dinner at Nuits Mosaiques
1-Kelly Enston, 2 in strips and glasses, 3, on left side
of table, continuing on right, 4, 5, 6- Teri
Angela looking sideways.
Hadia take a moment to acknowledge a fan
L-R: 1, 2- scratching head, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10-
Denise?, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17- Hadia, 18, 19-
Amrita, 20-unknown forehead, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26,
L-R: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 Teri Lyn? , 8, 9, 10,
11, 12-Kelly Enston, 13, 14, 15, 16- Hadia, 17, 18- Jalilah,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25,
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor" for
other possible viewpoints!
Holidays, A Dance and Culture Camp in Tunisia Report and
photos by Denise Leclair
do you judge a dance trip? Would you go back next year? …in
a heartbeat. Damn the cost and mercury retrograde and the heat.
It was that good!
is Gypsy Bellydance? by Amy Luna Manderino
...it is a sore point for representatives of the Roma community whose
advocacy groups are very clear on their preference for the term Roma or Romani
and consider the term "Gypsy" to be suspect when used outside their
in America, by Caitlyn, photos of author by Rachel
Roma dance usually brings to mind tambourines and skirt-swirling, but these
images are mainly a fantasy.
of the Spirit by Sierra Suraci
what are you contributing - either to their dilution as a people
or the strengthening of their true image.
Magic Sounds Studio of Cairo, 3 Albums reviewed and Compared by
CDs- Oriental Fantasy #12- Talisman, Nesma:Del Nilo al
Guadalquivir (From the Nile to the Guadalquivir),Nesma, Memories
In a world where Egyptian dancers dance in the "less
is more" tradition, the world of musicians seemed to be - more
is better and lots more is best.
3-11-08 Serpentessa –Do
not try this at home…. DVD review of "Belly
Dance with Snakes: Embody Your Inner Serpent" Review
There are things in this video I can get behind and
things I can’t. A blessing and a curse of this video is
that there is so much information that it is difficult to navigate
through it all.
and Belly Dance, Two Books Review by Rebecca Firestone
Belly Dance: Orientalism, Transnationalism & Harem
Fantasy edited by Anthony Shay and Barbara Sellers-Young & Choreographic
Politics: State Folk Dance Companies, Representation, and Power
by Anthony Shay
Belly Will Travel by Tanya Lemani book review by Birute
The process of getting booked on these shows and her
relationships with other artists, both famous and unknown, who
help her on her way is the most interesting part of the book.
2-07-08 Aruna's "Dancer's
Body" Reviewed DVD review by Rebecca Firestone
One of Aruna's claims to fame is being 50 and being tougher than chicks half
her age. And it's true, at least with regard to the strength training - which
was her profession for many years. Considering that most belly dancers want
to be as youthful as possible, it's a nice change to have someone so athletic
who's still improving with time.