Thursday, April 23, 2009

Polka Dots: What's That About?

Recently in Disney World, I saw quite a few polka dots worn by Minnie, because that's her trademark. Also by my friend Heather, who likes them "because they're happy." And like the dance for which they're named, they do have a jumpy, bouncy air that echoes old-fashioned favorites of childhood: gumballs, marbles, dominos.

I've often wondered, though, why flamenco dancers from Andalucia also traditionally wear polka dots. Surely not a neglected historical invasion by accordian-hefting Poles playing "Roll Out the Barrel"?

No indeed. A different tribe, and a much earlier migration: wandering peoples from India, gypsies who settled in Andulucia and gave rise to the culture of flamenco and classical guitar that still flourishes in the region today. They believed that sewing small round mirrors on clothing would help avert the evil eye (round mirrored sequins remain very popular in Asian traditional costume). In Spain, the mirrors (called "lunares", little moons) were eventually supplanted by dots. In high fashion, Venezuelan Carolina Herrera has made them a trademark. Why Minnie wears them -- Spanish or Polish or simply happy allegiance -- remains a mystery.

(Flamenco costume image from Raquel Lopez Designs)

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