Road of the Roma: Dances of the Roma (Gypsies)
from Rajasthan, Turkey, Egypt, Macedonia and Romania
Helene Roma

This program gives the audience a unique opportunity to learn about the variety and dynamics of the dances of the "Gypsies" (Roma, Sinti, Kalderash, Nawar etc.) beyond the typical clichés of “Gypsy dance.” The Roma are a people of Indian origin (Romani, their language, is closely related to Hindi) who migrated west in the 11th century. By the 16th century they had spread through all of Europe, where they made important contributions, especially in the areas of music, entertainment, tin-smithing, horse trade, etc. In Europe they were discriminated against, held as slaves and otherwise exploited. In Hitler’s Germany more than 60,000 (1/5 of all European Roma) were killed. After the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe they are increasingly seen as scapegoats for all sorts of problems, while at the same time the romantic vision of the noble, wild and passionately dancing gypsies persists. The Roma however, have incredibly rich traditions, which outshine all clichés, and which are different depending on the regions where they live. This program gives you the opportunity to see the dance traditions of the Roma from six regions : from Rajasthan, the cradle of Romany culture, through Turkey, Upper Egypt, Macedonia, Oltenia (southern Romania) and Transylvania (north-western Romania). Between the dances, slides will illuminate regional Roma cultures, costumes, music and instruments, dances and traditions.

Helene Eriksen is a dance ethnologist and dancer with over 25 years of field research and teaching experience. Her solo performances alternate expressive dances in colourful and elegant original costumes with informative slide shows, providing a complete cultural experience. Her emphasis is on learning the language of a dance to facilitate improvisation. Kálmàn Dreisziger, a Hungarian folkdance specialist, contributes a life-long acquaintance with Gypsy culture. Their love of the improvised dances of Transylvania brought them together.

Helene RajastanDances from Rajastan

Rajastan, the Land of Kings in northern India, is a region of fertile fields in the east and arid desert in the west. Musicians, dancers and entertainers live mainly as nomads and herders. Strictly speaking, the Langa, Manginzar, Dholie, Dhadir and Sapera tribes are not Gypsies but they have a similar lifestyle and position in society as Roma and inhabit the original homeland of the Roma. Helene will perform a dance of the Sapera, a caste closely associated with snake charmers. The dance mirrors this tradition through the mudra (hand gesture) called sharpa shisha (snake head) and movements that imitate a snake.

Helene Turkish RomanRoman Dances from Turkey

In the Ottoman Empire Roma were popular entertainers for the people and in the courts. Even today many of Istanbul’s famous musicians are Roma. They perform at restaurants, in well-known spots such as Çiçek Pasajı, or in the Roma neighbourhood of Suluküle. In addition to dancing Çiftetelli the Roma are masters of dancing in a 9/8 rhythm called Karşılama or Roman. In contrast to common perception, Roman is not danced with wild leaps and tambourines, but rather with exquisitely fine movements, which manage to be very earthy and yet very refined at the same time, while accentuating the 9/8 rhythm in ever changing, unexpected ways.

helene GhawaziDances of the Ghawazi from Upper Egypt

Ghawazi means “conquerors” and refers to the most traditional female dancers of Egypt, however in this case it is the hearts of men, which are to be conquered. The Ghawazi belong to the gypsy tribe of Nawar, who also inhabit Syria and Lebanon. The women of the Nawar were dancers and courtesans, while the men functioned as musicians and managers. Ghawazi used to be found throughout Egypt, but in the 1830’s they were banned to Upper Egypt. There they fascinated many 19th century travelers such as Flaubert, who immortalized his lover Küçük Hanım in "Voyage en Orient". When a group of Ghawazi performed at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, they caused an oriental dance fever, which has its repercussions even today. The art of the Ghawazi today is on the brink of extinction due to fundamentalist pressure. Their dance is conservative style of Egyptian dance which could be considered the grandmother of todays popular Raqs Sharqi. The fast, uninterrupted, regular rhythm of the zagat (finger cymbals) of the dancers contrasts excitingly with the syncopated beat of the drums.

Helene MacedoniaČoček Dances from Macedonia

Čoček is a dance of oriental origin, which can be danced as a line dance or as a solo improvisation. The word čoček comes from the Turkish köçek (dancing boy). Čoček is danced by Turks, Albanians and especially by Roma in Macedonia and Southern Serbia. Similar dances are found in Bulgaria (Kjuček) and Romania (Manea). The movements are small, fine and reserved, as if the dancer were dancing “inside her clothes”. Čoček music is probably the most lively, viable music tradition in the Balkans today, as shown by the success in the world music scene of the Roma musician Ferus Mustafov and the singer diva Esma Redžepova. Besides its Turkish and Balkan roots, the music incorporates strong influences from such diverse styles as Hindi film music or Mexican Mariachi music. Popular instruments today are the accordion, saxophone, clarinet, and even entire brass bands, because brass bands became popular in the folk music of this region after the First World War. But don’t be fooled, this is a far cry from a polka band!

Helene ManeaManea from Oltenia, southern Romania

The Danube basin is probably the Northern limit of dances of oriental origin in Europe. Manea is danced by Roma in Oltenia and around Bucharest along the northern rim of the Danube basin. During the Ceaucescu regime, Roma were prohibited from performing their own music and dances in public. Although Roma were in demand as accompanists for dance ensembles or as musicians in cafés and restaurants they were required to play Romanian music. Because of this, Helene was pleasantly surprised to find this dance in 1993 in Caracal, Oltenia at a dance festival. Manea was danced by both men and women with the subtlety characteristic of the roma dances of Turkey and the Balkans.

TransylvanianTransylvanian Dance Cycle, north-western Romania

During the Renaissance a new, exciting and highly improvised couple dance fashion swept over Europe. The nobility introduced it, the bourgeoisie copied it and peasants danced it and filled it with life. Brueghel painted it; Dürrer illustrated it; preachers denounced it. Wondrously, these dances survive to this day in a far corner of Europe. Romanians, Hungarians and Roma in approximately 30 villages around the city of Cluj in Western Transylvania preserved and polished these traditions and developed them into the most complicated and elegant of couple dances. Like their neighbours, the Romanians and Hungarians, the Roma of this region have a traditional cycle of dances that includes men’s exhibition dances and continues with couples’ dances. The Roma who are paradoxically both the most conservative and most innovative guardians of theses traditions, have maintained a very fast couple dance, done apart, without linking the partners. Called çingerica, it is ornamented by finger snapping and has incredibly rapid footwork. Helene has been fortunate to be able to research and dance this in a Transylvanian Roma village.