Rana Halprin is one of the few Gadje (non-Gypsy outsiders) that speaks Romanes from living amongst the Rom in the United States and Europe. In the mid-1970s she lived with the legendary Diego de Gastor family. She has devoted the better part of 30 years to documentation and dance within their communities.
Rana grew up dancing with her mother, the famous Anna Halprin, and was instinctively comfortable with the Flamenco Puro form as an expression from deep within the soul.
The following essay is an excerpt from her book in progress titled California to Campland: the Way of the Gypsies (Rom). The book will cover her long and enduring involvement with the Romani in California, Italy and Spain. Rana is also putting together film and still photography footage into a documentary on Romani refugees. This film covers the topic of dance and music as sustaining culture and survival, that being food for the soul.
root is honored to welcome Rana Halprin as a contributor. For more information please visit her website at www.PhotoMythology.com .
Throughout the world, Romani (or Gypsy) musicians and dancers are gifted and inspired artists, honoring individuality, creative talent and personal expression. The arts of music and dance of the Roma range from India to the famously provocative Flamenco Puro to the haunting beauty of Eastern European music and the French Django Rinehart and “Gypsy Jazz.”
More than technique, it is personal style and attitude which makes music and dance distinctly Roma. For the Rom, the arts of music and dance are an expression of emotion, placing high value on improvisation, intensity, and originality. The Romani arts, including Flamenco, act as a system for teaching and claiming cultural history and serves as a collective healing. Romani music and dance is, at its peak, an expression of talent and sublimation. It is a manner of enduring and transcending life’s emotional repertoire of sorrow, grief and pain, as well as a celebration of life’s beauty, love, joy and vitality. The arts are a highly regarded force and discipline in many cultures. For many Romani, music and dance are “food for the soul”, a fully integrated and cherished aspect of life.
Creative spirit permeates Romani life through music and dance, enhancing health and enduring spirit (often referred to as the enduring Roma). Their art transcends the worst of situations and often-extreme poverty and racism. Romani dance is an expression of the culture and how the process of art is integral to healing and personal freedom of expression of Romania (Romania being the ethos Romani culture).
Flamenco, as a “Gypsy" art has been acknowledged and influential in Spain for years, giving the Gitanos a rightful (though far from equal) place. Flamenco thrives particularly around Seville, in Southern Spain. Dancers and musicians travel from all over the world to the Flamenco centers around Seville to study this complex, provocative and rhythmic style.
Within Flamenco there is the Flamenco jondo (deep profound flamenco) and more upbeat Flamenco such as rumba and bulerias. In the Flamenco circles there are the “purists”, those that believe in the art of pure Flamenco, and the new generation of individuals exploring fusion. I believe both has it’s place. After all, life is constant change and an important part of creativity is to develop new expressions. Life is constant growth therefore, so is art.
Just as Black Americans hold claim to soul music which originates from the Black American experience, the experience of Flamenco is a reflection of culture. It emerges from a deeply ingrained understanding of the compass (rhythms), duende (soul or transcendence) and gracia (attitude). Gracia is central to Flamenco Puro, it is a way of behaving, a point of view of life. In other words it is an expression of Romani culture. True Flamenco is also the ability to be spontaneous and create unique style or personal “signature” such as the Farrucos, the Amayas, the legendary families of Moron, Jerez, and Utrera De la Frontera.
Flamenco Puro is the roots of flamenco from which numerous styles have borrowed and emerged. Flamenco dance, in all it’s forms, fusions and history is an enormous subject of many books which I do not aim to cover in this brief commentary, nor the purpose here.
Flamenco Puro is first and foremost a cultural and personal expression and is built on a strong expertise, ease and spontaneity due to having grown up within the culture of the art. Romani music and dance steps can be copied, but, much to the chagrin of gadje (outsiders), Gypsy music and dance belong to the Rom.
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