When most 13 year old girls are in the throes of their first boy crushes, Gypsy Rosehill was falling in love with a culture far removed from her own.
The daughter of a Spaniard father and Alabama-born mother, she was given a firsthand tour of Europe at an early age. In the streets of Rome and Paris, she became enamored with Gypsies.
“I grew up traveling … Rome, Florence, Paris, Switzerland, London, Spain,” she said, explaining that her mother left Alabama to pursue a travel guide job through Europe. “Being 13 and being in Paris and London and Rome, you see of lot of Gypsies. You almost feel sorry for them because they're so downtrodden and misunderstood. They beg in the street and you might think that's so terrible, but when you hear their music and see them dance, you think that's maybe not so bad. They're free.”
When her family moved to Meridian in her junior high school year, she was drawn to Rose Hill Cemetery, where the King and Queen of the Gypsies are buried.
“I found myself up there all through high school, reading poetry, hanging out,” she said. “I liked being around Kellie Mitchell [Queen of the Gypsies]. She seemed like a mysteriously cool person.”
Years later, it is Kellie Mitchell that Rosehill pays homage to through her dance.
Having studied ballet and been discouraged from a formal pursuit of that career, Rosehill met a dance instructor who introduced her to belly dance.
“I came home and told my mother, 'I'm going to belly dance!' and she said, 'Does that involve a pole?' I told her it was an ancient art form. It was an art form, in fact, that connected her to the Gypsies she watched as a young teenager.
“To be a Gypsy, you have to grab everything from every culture, every type of music,” she said. “There's no getting stuck on one thing. You have to blend it all together. It all goes back to where the Gypsies came from in India and their travels throughout the Balkans, parts of eastern Europe, portions of Spain and Portugal.
“There are a lot of people who don't know just how ancient this is. People think Shakira made it up, and that's probably a bad analogy, but for me my focus never changes. I'm about showing off things you cannot get in our modern world, things that take you back before computers and cell phones, before organized religion even – to the most ancient level of civilization and culture you can possibly get to.”
Her interest in the artful dance that has been used for centuries to prepare women for childbirth led her to teach a Meridian class – from which three more classes have been born. Aside from the hundreds of women she has taught – ages 10 to 76 – Rosehill's sultry moves have been passed to three sister dance troupes, all of which were begun by the original members of the dance troupe she created, The Queen City Gypsies.
On June 9, the troupe will celebrate 10 years of dancing and performing throughout the South with a special performance with belly dance celebrity Petite Jamilla. The world-renown dancer will teach a workshop for people “with some dance experience” before performing with her own troupe, Sirqus of Jreams.
Rosehill said in keeping with Queen City Gypsy tradition, the show will be inclusive of several genres of music. Rowdy South and Father of Waters Pipes and Drums will accompany the dances, although Rosehill says the troupe has embraced all music from middle eastern to death metal.
Keeping a five-member core troupe, Rosehill and her band of Gypsies have performed throughout Mississippi and into Alabama, Louisiana and Florida. Following the Gulf Coast oil spill, the troupe did a “Shimmy for our Shores” fundraiser for the National Wildlife Federation. They've performed at Relay for Life and Art for Heart. Last May, Rosehill traveled to Stonehenge for “dance meditation and personal enrichment.” Each October, the troupe loans itself to Rose Hill Cemetery for the yearly tours that introduce residents to the people who are buried there. Each year, they don brightly colored skirts and beaded jewelry, and act out the roles of the entire Mitchell family buried there.
“People had forgotten Kellie Mitchell, and I think we've brought her back to life,” Rosehill says. “And we continue to portray a part of history that was long forgotten. We need to keep passing on to our children the stories of these important people. We need to keep our town's history alive.”
Dancer Michelle Joyner has been with Rosehill for nine years.
“It's a creative outlet for me,” Joyner says. “I love the movements, the costuming, the history. It's an art form that I really embrace and one that embraces me back. And I love that I don't have to be a size 2 to be a belly dancer. They come in all shapes and sizes and ages. It's what I do for me. Some people paint, some people garden. I belly dance.”
Stacey Jemison, who uses the stage name Iantha Star – began The Gypsy Naval Academy belly dance troupe to help her lose weight following the birth of her son. Having danced with Rosehill for 10 years, the offshoot troupe nearer to her NAS Meridian job afforded her more time to dance.
And Rosehill has created an offshoot company from the dance pursuit. Dead Gypsy Designs (on Facebook) offers everything from belly dance attire and medieval cloaks. “It's wearable art. Some is recycled, some is vintage.” The pieces are interesting and varied, she says, and they always reflect an ancient feel.
“That's what this dance is about for me, what the Gypsy culture is about for me,” she says. “They Gypsies always intrigued me because they were a spectral nation. They kind of had their own definition of freedom. They didn't pledge allegiance to a home country. It's a romantic notion of what the Gypsy life must have been like.”
Some dance experience is required. Bring veils and zills. The workshop will cover elements of various styles, cabaret and tribal. Workshop is from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. in the ballroom of the Temple Theater, downtown Meridian. The cost is $50 and includes a ticket to the anniversary show.
The anniversary show:
Show begins at 7 p.m., also in the Temple ballroom. Tickets are available online at www.queencitygypsies.com. Cost is $10 online and $15 at the door.
The benefits of belly dance – Yip! Yip!
Improved muscle tone
Promotes a more restful sleep
Promotes body healing
Preparation for childbirth