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Filmmaker explores evolution of the handshake

By Bryan Long

Filmmaker Michael Britto is exploring handshakes he sees on the streets of New York.
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Michael Britto's documentary explores the handshake.
New York

(CNN) -- The handshake is as mysterious as it is common.

Its origins have been researched, debated and discussed with little official agreement.

There's the theory of the handshake's Egyptian origins, having been delivered as a gift from God. And there's the one about medieval strangers shaking hands to assure the other no weapons would be drawn.

Regardless of its origins, there's little doubt about its significance as a greeting and an indicator of just who you're dealing with.

Advice columnists and business consultants proffer reams of advice on how to execute the perfect handshake. suggests a three-step approach: Extend your hand, gripping so the web of your thumbs meet; shake just a couple of times; and end the hand shake cleanly.

Easy enough. But even President Bush has been cited for having inferior handshaking skills.

The Nonverbal Communication Web Project displays a series of still images in which Bush shakes hands. In one, it says his form is perfect. In another, Bush doesn't face a soldier he's shaking hands with -- according to the site, somewhat rude. In two others, his form is apparently not perfect but acceptable.

Filmmaker Michael Britto is more interested in the casual handshake than he is the photo-op versions on endless display by heads of state. So he took to the streets of New York to document the evolution of this cultural expression.

He's studied "biscuit bumps," "daps," "pounds" and "soul shakes" for his unfinished film already titled, "Gimme Five: History of a Handshake."

One guy interviewed in the film explains there's a reason handshakes on the street don't follow so-called proper etiquette.

"We just wanted to be different from everybody," the young man explains. "We saw everybody following behind each other so we started our own stuff."

Britto explores the greeting in more than one cultural context, including American Indian, Greek and Brazilian versions.

"I'm learning a lot from doing this," Britto said. "I love meeting people, I love interacting with people. And that's what the handshake is about."

Britto has also sought out the handshakes of gang members.

"Some gang members, when I approached them, they mistook me for police, undercover police, like I'm trying to find out their secret handshakes," he said. "But that's not the case. What I'm trying to do is get to the bottom of what these things mean."

The education can be hit or miss.

"Sometimes you meet people and they can tell you what a handshake means for every movement," Britto said. "And some people can just tell you they just do it. It's muscle memory they don't think about."

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