Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Dance the night away

I finally have the feeling that summer has arrived: temperatures are climbing above 30°C and from the beach children’s noisy voices beam through the neighbourhood. It’s the time when people on the beach and the streets take up their summer mood: racing taxi’s and mopeds.

Crisis or not, Greeks always enjoy summer. Especially the nights when work has been done and the afternoon heat has passed away. Even though the municipality does not have too much money, it has presented a reasonable cultural summer program, although most events are taking place in the capital Mytilini. Here in the north we have to make do with a music performance of Nick Tsirigotis on the main square of Petra (21.00 on July 18) and on August 6th there is music and dance from the Ionian Islands in the castle of Molyvos. On August 7th in the same location there will be a children’s event called The princess and the frog (21.00). In addition to the famous Sardine Festival on August 6th and 7th in Skala Kalloni, Kalloni has some concerts and Plomari and Polichnitos have both one event. However for all other music and dance events you have to travel to Mytilini.

Maybe you are curious about the timing of the childrens’ event – nine o’clock in the evening – that’s because, in the summer, Greek children don’t go to bed early. They sleep in the afternoon when it’s so hot and they only go to the beach about six or seven o’clock. And when the parents go out for dinner much later, they take the kids along. In wintertime I have also been amazed about the late bedtime for children. More than once I have seen movies for children programmed very late on television. I wonder if Greek children ever go to bed early.

Here in the north we don’t have to be too sad about the meagre municipal cultural program. Besides the many local festivals and the celebration of the Asumption of Mary on August 15th, there are several restaurants which hire musicians to light up the hot summer nights. In any case, even without planned dance events, you will often find dancing because Greeks love to dance.

Dances of Lesvos have been influenced by history. The Karsilamas is a dance that came with the refugees from the East and this dance is now popular in both Turkey and on Lesvos. Karsilama means face to face and that is why the Karsilamas has to be danced by two people. It is also called ksila (χιλα), which means wood.

I prefer to watch an Ayvaliotikos Zeybekikos, another popular dance on Lesvos which I think is more dramatic. The name comes from Ayvalik, the village in Turkey opposite Lesvos, meaning that this dance also came from the other side. In this dance normally one person performs before a group.

It is pretty amusing to surf around on YouTube in order to see what little movies have been made of these and other Greek dances. I even found some instruction movies to teach you how to dance; but the instructions for how to dance the Karsilamas were too poor to be taken seriously. Just take a look at Music on Lesvos Island, and you will see that these dances are a little bit more complicated than just one, two, three, four.

However you can win prizes even though you don’t know all the steps to a Greek dance. This happened to father and son Stavros Flatley during the popular television program Britains got talent in 2009. Due to their great Greek charm and without too many Greek dancing steps they reached the final of the competition and became fourth.

In western European media Greeks are now said to be ouzo boozing lazy people, stopping work when they reach the age of fifty. People who visit Greece know that this picture is totally wrong. Especially in the summer season, old and young folks work like hell in order to save for the winter months when there is less work to be found. But late in the evenings, when a glass of ouzo may well appear on the table, the Greeks throw their tiredness into the air and not only drink but also dance the night away. Local tavernas and village festivals provide welcome opportunities to forget their worries. The bull festival in Aya Paraskevi has already passed but have a look at this man who wanted to dance but could not separate himself from his horse: a horse dance. And what do you do when you don’t want to go home after the Sardines Festival? You just continue to dance an improvised Karsilamas in front of the harbour.

Or, if want to get into the papers with your Greek dancing — then you have to go to Rhodes where, in Kremasti, on July 31, they will try to enter the Guiness Book of Records by having 2000 people dance the famous sirtaki dance. This dance is also called Zorba’s Dance. That’s because this dance was created during the filming of the famous movie Zorba the Greek where Anthony Quinn had the memorable leading role. The steps of traditional dances such as the hasapiko or the syrtos were too difficult for Quinn so they created a new dance for him with the music of Mikis Theodorakis. And that is why the most famous Greek dance is no older than 1964, when this movie came out and was an instant worldwide hit.

If you don’t fancy any Greek traditional dance, then you should come to Lesvos where from July 14 to 17 there is going to be a tango festival in Molyvos. What better than to do a tango under a bright moon to music of famous deejays? During the daytime there will be workshops and dance demonstrations by famous tango dancers.

Summer heat has arrived, along with the languorous nights. What more can you do than dance the night away?

(With thanks to Mary Staples)

@ Smitaki 2011

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