Friday, July 24, 2009
Dancing with the Gypsies
Busking in the subway stations has proved to be quite the adventurous endeavour. First, you should be aware that Berlin has a fantastic and immense system of underground and above ground trains. Almost always on time and available to take you anywhere you need to go. This also means that a lot of people use the subway as their primary means of travel- which is to say that certain stations are very busy.
We like the busyness. Lots of potential contributors! There is an art to busking. It turns out that you can’t just stand there and play and make money, no matter how good you are. No, even the best musicians have to work the subway goers the way they would work a crowd at a rock show. Which is what Wilson and I have been doing. He’ll start off with a ballad and then jack it up with a rock song. I’ll dance for a minute to the rock song, and then I’ll dramatically take his cowboy hat from off his head and I’ll shimmy through the crowd with it to earn extra tips.
Passing the hat is key. Apparently, so is almost getting your hand bitten off by a dog. Wilson bent down to pet a dog and almost got quite the bite! I think everyone felt sorry for him, because almost everyone left a tip before they boarded the train.
We’ve been shut down by the cops (but they’ve been very nice about it), had money thrown to us from across the platform in appreciation, saved a dad from the ordeal of his two year old throwing a tantrum (she stopped crying the second she saw Wilson in his cowboy getup), and a few other crazy experiences. My favourite thus far, though, was when a family of gypsies from Bosnia stopped to dance with us. Well, at first they only asked us for money. But they really liked the music and my dancing. One of them was wearing almost the exact same skirt as me. A lot of the moves you see in belly dance originated from traditional gypsy cultures. I’ve always wanted to learn from actual gypsies and thought that I might have my chance while being in Europe.
As I was contemplating on how to ask them what they thought of belly dance and if they could show me a dance step from their culture, one of them piped up and said, “You dance just like…. Shakira! You do Shakira dance!”
Horrified, I tried to explain that belly dance did not originate from Shakira, no matter how well she can shake her hips. But they gypsies insisted. “No, no, you Shakira.” And then they asked, “Teach us how to dance like Shakira!” I didn’t know how to tell them that the dance Shakira does probably originated from their ancestors. Instead, I grabbed one of the children’s hands and we twirled and shimmied and then I grabbed Wilson’s cowboy hat, gladly accepted tips from the bystanders, and then gave the tips to the gypsies.