Lunatique performs a Turkish Romany Dance at the 10th annual
Herdeljezi Rom Festival in Sebastapol, CA.
(left to right) Mary Skiles, Grace Liu, Artistic Director
Amy Luna Manderino, Lisa Snodderly, Victoria Drake.
Amy Luna Manderino
As the artistic
director of both Shuvani (performing dances of the Romani
Trail) and Lunatique (performing various styles of bellydance),
I am often asked "What is Gypsy Bellydance?" I believe
we can point to various reasons for this confusion and for the
overwhelming temptation in the ethnic dance community to pair
the word "Gypsy" with the word "bellydance"--
some historical and some archetypal.
of the most established urban centers for bellydance in the East
are Cairo, Egypt and Istanbul, Turkey. Since dancing in public
in these Muslim countries has historically been frowned upon for
"good women" looking to marry one day, the task of public
entertaining and dancing fell to the Romani communities in those
living with the same religious taboos as their Muslim counterparts,
Romani women were free to make a living practicing these arts.
Since the Roma
were often prohibited from working in most professions in these
communities, dancing meant being able to help support one's family
in an environment hostile to Roma. These dancers were known as
the Ghawazee in Egypt
and Rom in Turkey, who came from the Sulukele district in Istanbul.
As mentioned, being outside the mainstream meant these women could
dance and move freely without prohibition and their dances (tame
by today's standards) became famous (infamous?) and enormously
popular in both the East and West. With urbanization during the
20th century and the influence of Hollywood, these folk dances
influenced the styles evolving in the nightclubs and cabarets
which became the glamorous evening entertainment we now know as
bellydance in the West. Thus we see the connection between Romani
dance and the historical development of bellydance. But where
is the elusive "Gypsy Bellydancer" today?
brings me to my second point. The archetype of the Gypsy and the
Bellydancer are so fundamental and primal that they induce an
irresistible temptation to emulate.
suggest a sexually alluring woman, powerful and independent--which
is a pretty accurate description of the possibilities available
to women in today's post-feminist West.
to note that this is a new and extremely rare position for women
throughout most of patriarchal history where sexually aware and
strong women were outsiders in their community at best and outcasts
at worst. Today, in the West, we are claiming our ancient right
to be powerful and sexual, in the tradition of many pagan Goddesses
of old such as the Nordic Freya, Egyptian Hathor, Hawaiian Pele,
Aztec Xochiqutezal, Greek Aphrodite--the list goes on and on and
But where does
that leave us with respect to dance? Is there such a thing as
Gypsy Bellydance from a dance ethnography standpoint? Many Tribal
style Bellydancers use the word "Gypsy" in their troupe
names or in their marketing. Is their any connection between the
dances they do and Romani dance?
a sense, any dancer doing any style of bellydance can trace
the proud torso posture and pelvic isolations back to Romani
dance--but the various forms of bellydance have become so stylized
that it is problematic to call the dance Gypsy.
may use the term because they incorporate costume elements and
movements from countries along the Gypsy Trail in their performances.
But using this reasoning is questionable; a hand gesture from
Kathak, a classical Indian dance, is not Gypsy just because it
comes from a country on the Gypsy Trail. Undeniably, there is
something about the Tribal fusion dancer that suggests the Gypsy
archetype--the fusing of various cultural influences into a bohemian
aesthetic that is earthy, proud, and passionate is certainly a
distant cousin of the Romani arts, if not a direct descendant.
Yet, this presents a problem also, because dancers are using an
ethnic label to market an art form based on an archetype and not
an authentic lineage.
more importantly, 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 own
Where does that
leave us? Paradoxically, all styles of bellydance have Gypsy roots
and yet today's highly evolved and fused Western styles (cabaret
and tribal included) have so many influences and permutations,
that it's difficult (and, some would argue, disrespectful of the
Roma) to call any of them Gypsy.
But one thing
is certain. Ancient archetypes are powerful--perhaps the most
powerful force we know--and, problematic though it may be, I am
quite sure we haven't seen the last of the Gypsy Bellydancer for
a long time to come!
Click for gorgeous enlargement!
cast of Shuvani at the 27th annual San Francisco Ethnic
Dance Festival. The countries represented in the women's
costumes from left to right are Spain, Russia, Turkey,
India. Performer's names (l to r): Azriel “El Moreno,”
David McLean, Holly Shaw, Vladimir Riazantsev, Karen Oakley,
Tim Rayborn, Hannah Romanowsky, John Waller, Artistic
Director Amy Luna Manderino, Javad Butah, and Michael
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
11-29-01 Nomads of the Spirit by Sierra Suraci
what are you contributing - either to their dilution as a people
or the strengthening of their true image.
Shuvani: Music and Dance
inspired by the Roma "Gypsy" Trail Photos by Jan
Dvorak, Captions and Photos provided by Amy Luna Manderino Saturday,
February 21, 2004 Cafe de la Paz, Berkeley, California
5-13-03 Fusion Category added
to Belly Dancer of the Universe Competition by Luna. "You
know, we're really making history here..."
From the Land Down-under,
Part 3: More of Our West Coast Dance Adventure
"Hi, I'm Suhaila's mum; I hear you Underbelly girls
are good zillers!"
Rhea: Greek Flavor and Flair Article
by Rebecca Firestone, Photos by Carl Sermon,
Rhea & Laikis Orientale and Greek Folk Dance Workshop
sponsored by Ma*Shuqa, held Saturday, August 19, 2006, at the
Empire Buffet restaurant, in San Jose, California