Trail of La Gitana Amaya

Historical information by Amaya

The history of Oriental Dance is intertwined with that of gypsies of Andalucia or Southern Spain. Called Gitanos in Spanish, many of them worked as musicians and dancers. From the 8-15 centuries, Southern Spain also known as Andalucia was dominated by Islamic Moors. The gypsy nomads, horse traders, fortunetellers, and smiths came into contact with these "Moriscos." Gitanos were sometimes also called "Moor" or "Moros" because both were brown skinned. The Gitanos & the Moors intermingled and influenced the existing Spanish culture in all areas such as architecture, language, poetry, music and dance. During this time the Christian population of Spain accepted Arab song and Muslim musicians were employed in the Christian courts in Castille and Aragon.

The close of the 15th century brought about the Reconquista and these Moorish/Islamic people were expelled by the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella and Ferdinand -- the very people that financed Cristobal Columbus to "discover" the Americas. Many of these people migrated back to North Africa. Still, many Moors and gypsies continued to live and intermingle throughout the Andalucian countryside.

Granada, Spain is well-known as the center for Gypsy/Gitano Dancing. Long after1492 when the Moros (Moors) were defeated and Granada fell, Moorish dancers and singers continued to entertain throughout Spain and even Portugal.

There is a definite kinship between the early flamenco forms and the music of the Orient. Over a thousand years ago some of the first fusion music was being composed and performed at the Royal Courts of Granada and Cordoba. The Arab people of Spain with influences from Baghdad were formulating the beginnings of Andalusian music. From earliest time to today, the music of Southern Spain is very Arabic flavor, much like the prayer chants of Islam. The very word "flamenco" comes from Arabic. Almost 10% of the Spanish language comes from Arabic, especially words that begin with "al,"-- algarabia (gibberish), almohada (pillow), algazara (Moorish battle cry, uproar), algodon (cotton), alba (dawn), alfombra (carpet), ojala (hopefully, if God wills it) and many more.

Says Hossam Ramzy, a modern Egyptian musician, "One can hear the strong Arabic influence in flamenco music -- the dance movements in flamenco with the hips and the portrayal of strong emotions and passion are essentially Arabic." The influence of the Muslims can be heard today in Spanish flamenco music which, like Arab music, is rhythmically strong, involves improvisation and the use of modal melodies. Danza Mora is typically done barefoot and allows the use of finger cymbals, clapping or finger snapping. Costuming is merely street wear of ruffles, polka dots, pants, or full skirts. Age is of little matter. In fact, women of mature confidence are revered. The arms and hands are sinuous and very little footwork is done. The hips are more fluid than staccato. There is more torso movement than in typical flamenco. Oriental dancers must remember to add an extra lift in the upper torso, as well as in the arms. There is a lot of room for personal interpretation.