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Šani Rifati is a Rom from Kosovo in the former Yugoslavia. He began dancing at a young age in his neighborhood (mahala) in Priština, learning from uncles, neighbors, and especially his mother, Djevria. He learned many of the dances in various neighborhoods throughout the former Yugoslavia. In his late teens, Šani performed with Kheljen Roma, a traveling folkloric dance troupe. He spent summers with his cousin, Esma Redzhepova (the Queen of Romani Music), in Sutka, Macedonia, where he learned traditional Balkan Romani dances.
Šani came to live in California in 1993 and became a United States citizen in 1999, the same year he co-founded Voice of Roma (VOR), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote and present Romani cultural arts and traditions in a way that counters both romanticized and negative "Gypsy" stereotypes, and in so doing, to contribute to the preservation of Romani identity and culture. VOR also works to heighten awareness of human rights issues faced by Roma in today's world, and to support efforts by Roma to rebuild and maintain their communities, improve their lives, and to strengthen the Romani voice both nationally and internationally.
Šani has been performing and teaching Romani mahala dances in the U.S. since 1998. His workshops integrate information about his cultural traditions and the current plight of the Roma. Since 1996, Šani has been educating the general public about the real Roma, downplaying the hype of the "Gypsy" image and counteracting the stereotypes. He has served as a resource for books, articles, and documentary films on traditional Romani dance and music and is a Romani human rights activist. Šani is not only the president of Voice of Roma, he is the Artististic Program Director of the Romani Routes Program and is a dancer, dance instructor, and percussionist for the group.
Šani's dance workshops and performances have been offered in the, New York, Portland (Maine), Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Thousand Oaks, Portland (Oregon), Seattle, and in Canada. Many of these performances and workshops were part of the Romani Routes Concert Tours involving high caliber Romani artists from Balkan countries, such as Esma Redzepova and her ensemble (2004); Ivo Papasov (2005); Kal, the young energetic Romani band from Serbia (2006 and 2008); and Yuri Yunakov and his Romani Wedding Band, including Rumen Sali Shopov (2007).
Some of the camps and festivals at which Šani has taught are California Herdeljezi Festival (Sebastopol, California); International Roma Day Celebration (San Francisco), Chicago Spring Festival; Balkanalia Music and Dance Camp (Portland, Oregon); University of Madison (Wisconsin); Mainewoods Dance Camp (Portland, Maine); and Kolo Festival (San Francisco).
Šani now lives in Graton, California.