Deutsche Zusammenfassung:

30 Jahre mit Roma Tänzen haben mich dazu gebracht, sie als verkörperte spirituelle Erfahrung – einer Art Yoga in Bewegung - zu sehen, die, meiner Meinung nach, wie Yoga, intensives Feuer im Körper aktiviert. Seit 1987 fand ich viele Gelegenheiten, mit Roma in der internationalen Folk-Dance Szene in den USA zu tanzen. In den späten 1980er Jahren begann ich, Roma Tänze in das Kreistanz-Repertoire (wo das, zu dieser Zeit, völlig unbekannt war) aufzunehmen. Zu Beginn wehrten einige ab, die meinten, dass die Hüftbewegungen würden nicht „spirituell“ sein. Glücklicherweise war eine größere Zahl aber, wie ich, der Meinung, dass Enthusiasmus, Hochgefühl und das instinktive Verstehen der Einheit von Sinnesfreude und Spiritualität genau das ist, was Romatänze so wertvoll und einzigartig macht.

Die wichtigsten Romatänze: Valle, Čoček, Čupurlika, Jeni Jol, Sa, sind, wie das Roma-Volk selbst, sehr alt. Die Tänze gehören zu der „Drei-Takt-Tanzfamilie“, die ich mit dem Lebensbaum identifizere, ein Zeichen, das die Große Muttergöttin darstellt. Korrekt getanzt, sind die Bewegungen der Frauen präzise und zurückhaltend, das heißt, diese Wärme kommt nicht von körperlicher Anstrengung. Das ist paradox, da doch bei diesen Tänzen ein starkes, inneres Feuer erlebbar ist. Die Tänze der Männer unterscheiden sich stark, sie sind viel schneller, mit Sprüngen und höheren Hebungen. In den vielen Ausbildungen mit Frauen, die ich gemacht habe, stellte ich fest, dass die meisten Frauen im Westen tiefe Wunden in ihrer Sexualität mit sich tragen. Die Tänze bieten einen sicheren Platz und einen heilenden Trost für diese alten Wunden. In den Tänzen wird unsere sakrale sexuelle Energie eingeladen, aus dem Schatten herauszutreten und sich als strahlend, als freudvolle Quelle zu präsentieren, die uns mit dem Kosmos und unserer eigenen Kreativität verbindet.

Das Thema hat allerdings auch eine politische Komponente: die historische und noch immer anhaltende Verfolgung von Roma. Wenn es uns gelingt, in uns selbst eine Heimat zu finden, in uns zu ruhen, sind wir flexibler, großzügiger und schneller bereit, auch den öffentlichen Raum zu teilen. Das wird uns ermutigen, den fürchterlichen Ausschluss und die Verfolgung von Minderheiten zu beenden; was für unsere Welt heute so tragische Folgen hat. Und was ist der beste Weg zu einer inneren Ruhe und Sicherheit zu gelangen? Tanzen, natürlich! (Übersetzung Angelika Güttl)


Romani Dance: Treasure in the Darkness

Thirty years of dancing Romatänze has led me to see them as an embodied spiritual practice – a form of yoga in movement, in my opinion – which, like yoga, can activate a tremendous heat in the body. In my 2011 article, ‘Healing and Homecoming: Roma Dances as a Pathway to Joy’, I described the healing energy which Romani dances can help us channel. In this article I would like to continue to explore this process, and to briefly describe how I came to bring the Romani dances into the heart of our circle dance network.
Starting in 1987, I found many opportunities to dance with Roma in the international folk dance scene in the United States, In those early years I learned many Romani dances from teachers including Elsie Dunin, Carol Silverman, Steve Kotansky, Šani Rifati, and others, and exulted in the unforgettable, electrifying atmosphere of live Romani music with Yuri Yunakov, Ferus Mustafov, Ivo Papasov, Esma Redžepova, Zlatne Uste and others in Balkan camps and New York nightclubs in the 1980s and ’90s, as well as in my extensive travels in Greece and the Balkans, and from 2000 onward, in Findhorn, Glastonbury, Grossrussbach and other European venues and in Australia with my good friends in the Balkan and Gypsy dance band Xenos.
From the beginning I observed that Romani dances have a particular ability to raise energy for personal healing and community blessing. Entranced, I made them a focus of inner and outer study. For years I practiced endlessly at home, danced them deeply in my workshops and groups, spent a fortune on music, travelled widely, and – this was before the internet – read every book and article on the Roma I could find. When, in the late 1980s, I began to bring Romani dances into the circle dance repertoire (where at the time they were completely unknown) the dances at first met resistance from some who considered dances with hip movements to be insufficiently ‘spiritual’! Happily, many more responded as I did: with enthusiasm, exhilaration, and an instinctive understanding that the sacred union of sensuality and spirituality is exactly what makes the Romani dances so valuable and special.
The main Romani dances – Valle, Čoček, Čupurlika, Jeni Jol, Sa – are, like the Roma people, very ancient. They belong to the three-measure dance family which I identify with the Tree of Life, a symbol also signifying the Great Mother Goddess. The Tree of Life pattern in Romani dance offers us an image of wholeness, balance, symmetry, and growth. They invite us to feel our energetic roots in the earth – they are very earthy dances, though they also have a lightness – with our arms and trunk like branches reaching to the sky. This union of earth and sky generates an awareness of the energy of creation, a warmth we can feel like a flame in the temple of the belly and the heart.
The ‘inner fire’ of Romani dance, in the phrase I coined many years ago, is kindled through this activation of chi within the belly and root chakra centres, which rises to awaken the solar plexus, heart, and other chakras in turn. Any dancer with experience of yoga, t’ai chi, or qi gong can discern this energy for herself.  Attention is focused on the pelvis and hips, both inwardly, because the cocek dance style uniquely invites the hips to move, and outwardly, because traditional Roma dress emphasises and draws attention to the hips and belly, the roundness and abundance of which are considered to be the epitome of female beauty. The powers of creation and sacred sexuality are thus more directly activated in Romani dance compared to other traditional Balkan dance styles, in which hip movements are not encouraged. These belly-centred movements for both women and men generate a perceptible warmth which is aligned with the life force, as sacrament and celebration.
Danced correctly, the women’s movements are refined and restrained, so this warmth does not arise from athletic exertion. This is important, because it means the dances are accessible to everyone of any age: nobody is excluded because of a sore hip or knee, or because they are a grandmother or great-grandmother. Paradoxically, the women’s Romani dances are both gentle and full of inner fire, so are suitable for women of every level of ability (the men’s dances, dance style and variations have large, faster, more springy steps and higher lifts – just watch Šani Rifati dance to see this style in action.) 
The movement towards personal healing and transformation, which this inner fire symbolises and enables, is among the greatest gifts of Romani dance. In my Ausbildungen in Women’s Ritual Dances, where I have trained hundreds of women to engage with and honour these dances as a deep spiritual practice, our intensive exploration of Romani dances is always among the deepest experiences of the 2-year training. Most women in the west carry deep scars to do with sacred sexuality, and the dances provide a safe space and a profoundly healing balm with which to lovingly tend these old wounds. Our sexual energy in the dance is invited to emerge from the shadow and reveal itself as a holy radiance, a joyful source connecting us to the cosmos and our own creativity – whether we express it through procreation or in more metaphorical ways.
There is also a political dimension to Romani dance, which I have emphasised since the very beginning of my work with the dances of the Roma and other peoples without a homeland. This has to do with the historical and contemporary persecution of the Roma people. On the one hand, learning these dances engenders respect for the rich and beautiful culture of a unique people with extraordinary music and dance traditions; this can bring healing to the old insult and injury where the Roma (and others) have been marginalised and cast into shadow. On the other hand, the inner process of the dance helps us welcome back into wholeness parts of ourselves which have been cast into shadow, in our psyches and in our society: our bodies, our bellies, our sexuality, our femininity, and our connection to the earth.
Through this movement toward wholeness, we can come to understand the ‘shadow’ as a place filled with treasure. In the mysterious darkness we find a link to the saint the Roma venerate most in Europe, the Black Madonna Sarah-la-Kali at Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the south of France. In her dark visage many see a link to Kali, the dark goddess of
India. In my earlier article I mentioned how the word for the Christian cross in Romani language, trushul, is a Sanksrit word from India, where the Roma have their roots, signifying the trident of Kali’s consort Shiva. This cross / trident motif is another manifestation of the Tree of Life. So at the heart of Roma spirituality we find the veneration of the divine feminine, the sacred marriage, the dance of transformation, the holy fire, and the redemption of all that has been cast into shadow. In this way the themes of exile and homecoming, and the inner homeland of the dancing body, are key themes of the Rom dances. They enable us to make peace with whatever may have happened to us and around us. From this peace we can reclaim our true creative power – not only for ourselves, but for the benefit of all women and men everywhere who need this healing to take place in the world.
Quite simply, if we can build a secure sense of home within ourselves, we will be more flexible, more generous and more able to share the space of our external home with all the others who are here with us. This in turn will give us courage to stop the terrible dynamic of exclusion and persecution – against minority groups, against parts of ourselves and our bodies, against those around us who should be cherished as friends, neighbours, companions and colleagues – which is having such tragic effects in our world today. What is the best way to build that secure sense of self and inner homecoming? Of course, by dancing.
Laura Shannon © 2016
Illustrations: © Laura Shannon
  • Bathing the statue of Sara-la-Kali in the sea in her feast day, May 24, at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
  • Sara-la-Kali, Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer
  • trushul, trishul, or  trishel: The name for Shiva’s trident is the Romani word for the Christian cross
If this sounds intriguing to you and you would like to explore the Romani dances further, thankfully there are now many opportunities to learn them, compared to when I began almost thirty years ago. I can recommend the following resources: 
My article ‘Heilung und Heimkommen: Romatänze als Weg zur Freude’ and many others can be found on my website: 
My booklet of dance descriptions to accompany the Xenos CD Tutti Frutti, a compilation of 40 traditional Romani dances I have researched and described, can be ordered from
The Xenos CD Tutti Frutti is available from
Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora
by Carol Silverman (Oxford University Press, 2014)
We are the Romani People, by Ian Hancock and Ken Lee (Interface 2002)
Dance events & teachers:
2. Roma-Tanz- und Singfestival: Brücke zwischen Ost und West–Begegnung der Kulturen, organisiert von Beate Frey, findet am 29.09.17-01.10.17 in Bad Herrenalb, Deutschland statt, mit Sani Rifati, Ida Kelarova, Piry Krakow, Laura Shannon, Dežo Dužda, Oto Bunda, und Dragan Mitrovic.
Sani Rifati, one of my old friends and earliest Romani dance teachers, directs the cultural and human rights organisation Voice of Roma:
Helene Eriksen:
Helen is expert in many different solo and circle Romani dance styles and she teaches, performs, and organises in-depth training projects all over the world.
Piry Krakow:;
Piry, Uta and Hannah all trained with me and now offer Romani dance events regularly in Austria, passing on a great deal of the dances, music, philosophy and material they learned from me in my trainings.