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Author with Jalilah and Hadia

Amrita Choudhury

Amrita Choudhury and Tracey Vibert (of Ottawa)

Gilded Serpent presents...
Gypsy…Un, Deux, Trois
A Review on the “Journey Along The Gypsy Trail” Workshop
with Hadia, Jalilah Zamora, and Amrita Choudhury
Event held on
January 5, 6, 2008, in Montreal, Canada
by Denise
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 Cernik (Rom) and one with Dalia Carella (Dunyavi) so I had enough to tempt me further but real gypsy style instruction doesn’t happen often. 

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.

Hadia, 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 and 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, more importantly 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. 

Amrita 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 earth. 

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 gestures. 

You 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!

Hadia then had us begin to consider the specific dance elements, gestures and 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 into 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 Sahiyah

Have 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, Egypt.

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.

Flamenco, Ghawazee, 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.

The 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 Lyn? 7- Angela looking sideways.

Hadia take a moment to acknowledge a fan

class photos
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, 27, 28

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,

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