Wandering Hands

The rat-a-tat-tat footwork of flamenco dancing and belly dancing's undulating tummies may seem worlds apart, but they actually have a lot in common.

"The hand movements are very similar and the rhythms of the music," says Damaris Ferrer, a professional flamenco dancer in Davie.

The connection is Gypsy ancestry. A thousand years ago, when the nomadic Romanies began migrating from India, they brought with them a folk-dance style that mixed improvisation with specific hand movements, which served as a form of sign language. A wave and a flip of the wrist translated into "boy," for example, while a slight variation stood for "girl." Dancers, in effect, told stories with their hands.

Those hand movements, as well as the complex melodic structures of Indian music, became an integral part of Spanish flamenco dance and many forms of Middle Eastern dance. During this weekend's Second Annual Fort Lauderdale Flamenco and Middle Eastern Dance Workshop, beginners and professionals will explore the various styles.

When the Romanies settled in Persia, the heart of today's Middle East, Gypsy folk dances were combined with the region's ancient fertility dances. Hence the bare midriff, which was a symbol of fertility. Focusing on the stomach, dancers began to manipulate it in various ways while making use of the Romany sign language. Belly dancing was born.

Flamenco was already alive and well in southern Spain, but the aggressive toe- and heel-clicking footwork was considered mostly a male thing 1000 years ago. Women were relegated to hip-swaying and upper-body movement, so the Romany hand movements were a welcome addition.

Even with such long histories, flamenco and Middle Eastern dance are still evolving, claims Ferrer. Modern dance and classical ballet have influenced flamenco choreography, and new forms now combine flamenco and belly dance elements. "It seems like every month there is a new innovation."

-- John Ferri

The Second Annual Fort Lauderdale Flamenco and Middle Eastern Dance Workshop happens Saturday, 1 to 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., at the University Center for the Performing Arts, 2240 SW 70th Ave., Davie. The workshop costs $75 for both days, $45 for one day, or $20 per class. Call 954-384-2241.

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John Ferri