A Romany Fusion Artist in Osaka
by Artemis Mourat
posted March 20, 2009
I first met Tania Luiz in Turkey. She brought 15 of her students from Japan to join our AlaTurka Folk Tours dance festival in Istanbul. Since that time, we have become friends and she has studied intensively with me. She is the dancer’s dancer. She has Romany roots and she fuses different genres with her training in folk dance, modern contemporary dance, Turkish Oriental, Turkish Romany and Arabic Oriental dance. She is not afraid to take chances thus allowing for her creative power and passion to express itself freely on stage. Her Turkish Oriental style is authentic and true. Tania’s life story is quite interesting. I suggested that she tell her story to Gilded Serpent and here is our interview.
Artemis: Please tell us about your connection with the Roma in Portugal …
Tania: The Roma that I have known in Portugal are almost exclusively selling goods in markets or on the streets and in their own shops. The goods are usually clothes and shoes. Outside my parent’s place, a flat on the 2nd floor of a 3 story building, there was an open marketplace and a small “shanty town” inhabited by Roma and non-Roma alike. On every Tuesday and Saturday some of our local Roma were joined by other Roma coming in big vans to sell their goods on the ground outside the market. My bedroom window had a view of the market place and I enjoyed watching the people getting their goods ready. I could also see the beautiful waters of the Tejo(Tagus) river flow. How well, I remember the market mornings because of the smell of the flowers, the vegetables and the fresh fish. The fish-selling ladies sang Fado songs, and the Roma ladies sang Spanish songs, the only thing their ancestors brought in their suitcases from Spain.
My Roma friends told me how during the XVIII-century in Spain, it was terrible for the Roma. Many Roma migrated to Portugal. At that time there were marriages between Roma and non-Roma in Portugal, for I have met several people who, like me, have a great-grandfather or great-grandmother who was a Roma.
My father’s grandfather was one such Roma. My father doesn’t remember much of his grandfather since he was the 4th of 5 children and he was born when his father was already an elderly man. My father surely inherited his fiery temper which was apparently legendary. Curiously enough, my grandfather, was a very calm but fun-loving man. He was famous for singing in the market place, telling jokes and being a great dancer. My grandparents on my father’s side were dance champions in the local balls. The main prize was often a barrel of red wine! Well into their 70s, they would take the bus to Spain to enjoy the fiestas. My father’s only talent (feet wise) was being a semi-professional soccer player before marrying my mother.
My mother’s father was without any Roma connection, but he was quite a character himself. At 11 he was thrown out of the house by his father with the intention of “making a man out of him.” He went to Lisbon, where he spent months sleeping on benches in gardens.
As a young man he decided he wanted to see the world so he became a chef on an international cruise ship. On board he played the banjo, took pictures of the places the boat visited and developed the photos in an improvised dark-room. He eventually kept a small monkey on board which he brought from Africa. He helped smuggle people from North Africa into Europe so they could find work and a chance to improve their lives. He was invited to a party on the North Pole, he told me! I didn’t believe him though!
Back to my parents, my childhood….My father is a fierce communist-atheist with the temper of a volcano, and a generosity to match. My mother is a very pious and gentle woman but fierce if she needed to be and very compassionate. Often she took poor Roma children from the shanty town nearby and bathed, fed and clothed them – not telling anyone she’d done it. Of course someone always saw it, and she gained the reputation of being very kind. She’s still loved by everybody in the neighborhood. She is also a bit forgetful and at least once a month she routinely leaves her wallet either at the bakery, the café, the fish stall or at some Roma lady’s market stall (which is basically a cloth on the floor). I remember one day as a child opening the door and there was a huge Romany widow fully dressed in black with the long wide skirt and head scarf. She was bringing my mother her wallet which she had forgotten at her vending place. She screamed: “Dona Dorinda! (That is “Mrs. Dorinda”). I’m honest but some are not so don’t do that again!”
Artemis: Will you tell me about your dance background?
Tania: My first dance training was imitating the local Roma as a child, usually watching them from the window. They invite people who are staring at their dance with their mouths open! So, occasionally I did join them. At 13 I joined a local group of Latin dance aficionados who danced in the basement of the church under the disguise of doing Bible studies. We were all kids, and we would memorize the dances we saw on the Brazilian TV channels and then go and practice there. At 18 I auditioned and was accepted for a contemporary dance course which lasted 3 years. I studied every day for 2 or 3 hours and eventually participated in some of their company’s productions. At that time I was attending the University and studying Biology. I also did Fencing, Tae-kwon-Do and Kung-Fu, the latter with a Chinese friend (we`ld go jogging in the park and kick trees, I quit that! Poor trees!!). I also took several Romani fusion (Russian/Romanian) classes in Portugal.
In 1995 I went on a trip to Turkey to visit my husband who was then my boyfriend. He is English and was teaching at a University in Ankara at the time. On a weekend trip to Cappadocia, I saw Oriental dance live for the first time in a restaurant in a cave. Well, it was all decided there.
I had been struggling with my identity in dance for years. The androgynous aspect of contemporary dance stifled my sense of sensuality. I found Flamenco to be too angry for me. Latin dances were too light. These comments apply to my own need of expression through dance, and in no way do I mean to take anything away from these dances which I like so much. But here, in Turkey, right in front of me was a beautiful woman, gracefully using her body, at times so sweet, at times so assertive, but always kept by the music; sometimes following it, sometimes, I felt, creating it! I latched on to her after the show and got a small lesson! I later lived and studied in Germany with German and Turkish teachers and took workshops with Egyptian guest dancers. I then lived in Nepal where I started dancing in the local
5 star hotels. While there, I studied a little Yoga and Buddhist Newari Tantric dances. I was asked to start teaching. I was around 24 I guess.
I stayed 6 months in India studying Odissi dance in a dance ashram.
At this time I think I was longing for a well-documented dance, old and structured. I was a little sad because I saw how people who were not properly trained but who just had a costume would teach Oriental dance. Plus the deep connections of Indian dance to the Divine were very interesting to me. At the end of it all, I realized that my body, my soul and my blood are meant to do Oriental.
I came back to Portugal and had a culture shock. Later I joined my husband in the Arabian Peninsula, Qatar. While living there, I could not leave the house on my own, and wouldn’t want to if I could so I studied the Arabic script and taught myself to play zills! I did it accompanying CDs. I had had darbuka classes while in Portugal so this helped me further with the rhythms.
I have now been living in Japan for 5 years where I am teaching 20 classes a week plus occasional workshops.
I also dance every Friday and Saturday at a Turkish restaurant called Istanbul Konak and it is in Osaka. The owner is Reza Alkoc. I keep going to Istanbul regularly, and 4 years ago joined the AlaTurka festival in Istanbul where I met you, Artemis, who have been drilling good zill habits into me! Your knowledge of the older Turkish Oriental was an absolute blessing to me because I was not getting any inspiration from the new Egyptianized styles. I am at the moment studying the oud with one of the members of my trio called “Kadife” (which means “velvet” in Turkish). The 2 other members are Turkish musicians who reside in Osaka, Sefer Simsek and Abdurrahan Gulbeyaz. I am performing the Turkish Oriental type of show with zills, veil and floor work and occasionally a Turkish Romany/Oriental dance. On the other hand I have created a fusion dance using contemporary dance with one or several Romany dances. Sometimes I dance with a long wide skirt, other times in pants, dressed as a man would, which allows for the faster foot work.
Artemis: What about your future plans?
Tania: Next year I am going to start a DVD series for Japan. Hopefully I can share the love for what I do with the American audience one day, either in person or in DVD. Inshallah, in person. What I have learned from all the countries I have been to (Spain, France, Belgium, Holland, England, Scotland, Check Republic, Italy, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Morocco, Turkey, Qatar, Dubai, Nepal, Thailand, China, Singapore and Japan ) is that we are all struggling to go down the same road, hoping to find peace or happiness or contentment. I have received smiles from people in all these places – either from my dance or from trying to speak their language. All these
stories (I have many more to tell!) and memories make me feel very rich and proud to be an Oriental dancer.
Tania’s website- www.tanialuiz.com/
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