During IkariaDance 2015 we had the chance to have with us a special and very kind couple from Australia, Neil and Bronia, who are actually under a special training of folk dance teaching in a specialised adult education centre. So during their visit in our Project, they also did some field research they would present in a paper and conference back home. This is a text written by Neil on his experience in August 2015. We copy it as it was written, and we thank him and Bronia a lot for all the good words and all the kind comments that can help us become better. We really hope to see you Neil and Bronia again with us!
Christiana & IkariaDance team
Cavos Bay, Ikaria, 23rd to 31st August, 2015.
Neil Renison, October 2015
In darkness, sometime after 9pm, the bus stopped on the narrow winding road high in the hills of western Ikaria. This is as far as the driver could go (while for those of us new to Ikaria it seemed a miracle that he had got so far); backing and filling to get around tight bends, scraping across one lane bridges and patiently waiting for drivers to move their cars parked in narrow village lanes. The last kilometer to the site of the paniyiri (festival) at the village of Kastanies (Tragostasi) we would have to walk; which was fine because the night was warm and clear and everyone else was heading in the same direction. This is the first night of our Ikaria Dance Workshop and our introduction to the Ikarian way of celebrating. Dine late (feast on goat meat, bread, Greek salad, fried potato chips, tzatziki and strong local red wine poured from plastic bottles), party hard, dance all night, listen to live music, battle for space on the dance floor (well actually a paved courtyard) and share the joy with hundreds of other people. We really didn’t know where we were (a dark night - full moon came later in the week), our Greek conversation was limited to simple greetings (Yia Sou, Kalimera etc.), the cooking was pretty basic and the wine unexceptional (though quaffable). However, the music and dancing created an atmosphere of excitement and inclusiveness and the lighting added charm to what in daylight would have just been rows of trestle tables and benches set up in a large paved village square. One felt welcome, happy and on the brink of a great new experience - the Ikaria Dance Project had got off to a great start. We would learn the dance steps properly later, nothing was going to stop us from joining in right now.
From an Australian base the problem with dance workshops in Europe is the cost of travel; whereas when in Europe the workshop and accommodation costs generally seem good, if not great, value. But if you can connect a couple of workshops with travelling and sightseeing, the tedium and expense of flying all starts to make sense. I have always been fascinated by the Greek Islands (sailed part of the Turkish coast and the Greek Dodecanese a few years ago on a friend’s yacht), so following the discovery on the Internet of the Ikaria Dance Project (www.ikariadance.com) it didn't take long to decide to include their 2015 workshop in our European travels. The only regret now is that we hadn't attended earlier workshops.
Ikaria will be familiar to some from Greek mythology; the legend of Icarus (Ikaros) the son of Daedelus, who made wings fastened by wax to himself and to his son to enable escape from Crete. It's a lesson in hubris, for Icarus ignored warnings, flew too close to the sun which melted the wax, then fell into the sea near the island now bearing that name. More recently Ikaria has attracted worldwide attention because of the longevity of a large proportion of its residents. The consensus seems to be that there is no magic potion or genetic abnormality that accounts for this trait - it is just a relatively stress free lifestyle, natural exercise from everyday life, a Mediterranean diet, few pollutants and lots of socializing, partying and dancing, which in combination enable many people to maintain active lives into their nineties (and beyond that for some).
Ikaria is also a very beautiful island, with a high mountain range running almost the full length of the island. This mountainous spine encourages rain; which in turn nourishes forests, agriculture and grazing. Though most of the island is mountainous, the foothills and valleys are fertile and farming employs about half the people, directly or indirectly. For centuries Ikaria was constantly raided by pirates which is one reason given for the people taking refuge in inland settlements and forming the habit of lying quiet through the day and embarking on activities in the night; a habit which now days allows plenty of time for socializing and partying. Tourism has planted a fairly light footprint on Ikaria, there are restaurants and lodgings in the coastal towns and villages, but not much hustle and bustle and limited road traffic. We stayed at the Cavos Bay Hotel near the village of Armenistis on the northwest coast of Ikaria. The hotel’s conference room provided the venue for the workshops – very convenient and next to the pool.
Our daily routine settled into morning and afternoon workshops of one to two hour’s duration on dances from a particular region. Fruit would be provided in the breaks. At lunch we were left to fend for ourselves; we soon found a favourite restaurant overlooking the bay with food and wine at modest prices. In the evening the group dined late, either at a paniyiri or at a tavern, with more social dancing to live music. The exceptions were (1) the daytime outing to Agios Kirykos (administrative centre), Therma (hot springs and lunch) and the Theoktitsi Monastery (Marathos), and (2) the daytime paniyiri at Agios Alexandros (lunch started about 4.30, so dinner was skipped).
Our teachers were Christos Theologos (for the dances of Asia Minor and Chios), Christiana Katsarou (dances of Ikaria), Efthimios (Makis) Evangelos (Samos Dances) and the Cretan dances were shared by Ioannis (Yanis or John) Playiotakis and Nikos Koufakis. Kaiti Koullia (who toured Australia in 2014) conducted a singing workshop and sang at the “Glendi” in Profitis Ilias village with the “Nikos Fakaros music company”. Participants included about seven helpers (demonstrating dances and managing all the administrative details) about 30 learners from France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Hungary, the United Kingdom, USA and Australia (Bronia and me) and some partners and friends. Christiana Katsarou was the driving force (and bundle of energy) behind Ikaria Dance Project 2015; nevertheless, her passion for Greek dance and culture was shared by all the other teachers, who were unsurprisingly also equally passionate about their own region.
The dances we were taught were generally the basic version (which almost every local in that region will know) and sometimes a few variations would be added. More complex steps and style were demonstrated, but generally not taught. However, there were exceptions (such as Hasapiko Politico) where variations and extra style were taught in depth. The more experienced students tended to add their own style anyway. Teaching was in Greek, French and English; which slowed proceedings somewhat, though also providing a bit of a rest break. The teacher was usually assisted by a couple of helpers who would place themselves around the circle so that everyone had a clear view of a pair of heels. What I found interesting was that each helper followed the teacher with their own slight variation of style - probably unconsciously and illustrating the flexibility allowed (provided that one keeps to the rhythm and honours the underlying spirit of the dance). Note however that movement involves the whole body, especially the arms and is not just from the waist down; this may be vigorous if young, measured if old, but a straight or rigid body misses the spirit entirely. Tradition and custom changes over time. Women will now lead hora, will dance with men, and will copy male steps; older locals can even put a rough date on when such changes became common.
We learnt a lot of dances, about 50 officially plus a few more not on the program. Only a few are going to stick, some were minor variations on dances already learnt, some will be easily jettisoned, while others deserve revisiting and more practice. Kariotikos the signature dance of Ikaria (the locals drop the “I” in Ikariotikos), was often danced to the tune of “Symbethera”, and was a constant feature of every paniyiri, glendi and night in a tavern. For me now it is not just a dance, but an embodiment of the spirit of Ikaria and a remembrance of those beautiful nights under the stars (and under a full moon by the end of the week). Some of the dances were simple, just to make it easier for dancers to accompany with singing, or in the case of one dance, accompanied with percussion (wooden spoons, tiny tumblers or finger cymbals). There is a trick to playing with 2 spoons in each hand, but once shown how, it is quite easy to do.
If you want all the dry details about the program and dances look through the lists at the end of this article. I will conclude instead by describing a paniyiri (religious festival) on Ikaria in a bit more detail, for these were the highlights of the week. The paniyiri is organised by the local community and provides an opportunity to raise funds for community needs. There is a community hall in which the food can be assembled, drinks dispensed and money collected. Around a village square or courtyard there will be benches and trestle tables arranged for 200 to 500 people (or more), a small part of that space will be reserved for dancing and to one side, perhaps on a terrace, a live band will be playing. Food might start to be served as early as 8pm, but most people will not arrive till much later, probably after midnight. The musicians might be playing by about 9pm, but serious dancing will not start until 10pm or later. Dancing may go on to dawn (I never stayed that long, but noted that guests were still arriving at 2am as we were leaving). The food is basic, traditional and with no frills. The tablecloth is brown paper. The goat is chopped into very large chunks and delivered wrapped up in paper; you share it and eat by tearing meat from the bone with a fork or your hands; don't expect a plate, though the bowl that the shared fried potato chips, cheese and olives, salad or tzatziki is served in might be utilized once emptied. The musicians (usually vocalist, violin, guitar and perhaps lyra – with amplification) are very skilled and work hard. On some nights they took a few short breaks while on other occasions the musicians seemed to play for hours on end, perhaps exchanging the lead with one another, but continuing with the melody or beat. At the end of each tune the dancers would disassemble, but quickly reform a circle when the next piece began if it was a hora, or find a partner if it was a couple dance. Traditional circle dances could be interspersed with western style waltz, tango or foxtrot, or with traditional couple dances (couple being either of same gender or mixed). It was the Greek couple dances which provided the opportunity to demonstrate one's prowess and express oneself. (Or look like a hapless tourist if one hadn't really got the hang of it.)
Last words: If you get the opportunity to travel to Ikaria or to participate in a future Ikaria Dance Project (and can happily live without early nights, starched tablecloths and fine china), take it.
18.30 - 20.00 Welcome and registration.
20.30 Bus trip to the village of Kastanies (Tragostasi) for the first paniyiri.
9.30 - 10.30 Dances from Ikaria with Christiana.
10.30 - 11.30 Dances from Samos with Makis.
11.30 12.00 break with fruit.
12.00 - 14.00 Dances from Asia Minor and Chios with Christos.
15.30 - 16.30 Beginners Greek language cafe with Christiana (optional as was following session for advanced students).
17.30 - 19.00 Dances from Crete with Yannis and Nikos.
19.00 - 20.00 optional workshop on traditional songs and rhythms.
20.45 By car to Nas to eat at the "Naiades" tavern and dance to the live music of Lefteris Skantzakas.
10 - 11.30 Makis (Samos) / Christiana (Ikaria).
12.00 - 14.00 Yanis / Nicos (Crete).
15.30 - 16.30 Beginners Greek language workshop café.
17.30 - 19.30 Christos (Asia Minor) dances and rhythm workshop with wooden spoons, finger cymbals and tiny liquor glasses.
20.30 Bus trip to Profitis Ilías village. Dinner and "glendi" in the tavern Argios. Live music from Kaiti Koullia and Nikos Fákaros.
10.00 - 12.00 Yanis / Nikos.
12.30 - 14.00 Christos.
17.30 - 18.30 Christiana.
19.30 Bus to Christos village for ATM, shopping etc.,
20.45 then Agios Polikarpos village for dinner at a tavern with Stroupas band.
10.00 - 12.00 Yanis / Nikos.
12.30 - 14.00 Christos.
15.30 - 16.30 Beginners Greek.
17.30 - 19.00 Makis / Christiana.
19.00 - 20.00 Workshop "Mandiniathes", songs from Crete.
20.45 By car to Nas for dinner at Naiades tavern. Live music (from Crete and the Dodecanese) with Stavros (on lyra) and Epaminondas.
Excursion by bus 8.45 - 19.00 to Agios Kirikos (main town and port) to visit folk museum, Therma (a nearby township and beach) to swim and bathe in hot springs, lunch in restaurant on the beach and stopping at the Theoktitsi Monastery (Marathos) in the mountains on the way home.
10.00 - 11.00 Christiana / Makis.
11.00 - 12.00 Yanis / Nikos (and goodbye).
16.30 - 17.15 last Greek language cafe (complete with ouzo).
18.00 - 19.00 Makis / Christiana.
19.00 - 20.00 Christos.
20.45 Bus to paniyiri in Vrakades village.
10.00 - 11.30 Christiana / Makis revision.
12.00 - 14.00 Christos revision.
15.30 Bus to Agios Alexandros for a daytime paniyiri (lunch and dancing), returning in theory by 19.00 (and in practice by 22.30). On return a last night get together at the Cavos Bay hotel for speeches and a final dance or two (or ten).
Checkout and farewells.
The Dances: (Transliteration and diacritics as provided by teachers.)
Asia Minor and Chios (Christos Theologos).
1. Syrtos Propodillas
2. Tessera matia
4. Karsilamas Propodillas
5. Karsilamas Smyrnis
7. Aptaliko Hios - Erythraia
8. Karsilamas Imvrou
9 Syrto zevgaroto Hios
10. Aptaliko Mytilinis
11. Hasapiko politiko
13. Zeimpekiko Erythraia
Crete (Nikos Koufakis).
3. Avogianos pidichlos
1. Syrtos chaniotikos
2. Gitsikia sousta (Roumatiani)
Crete (Ioannis Playiotakis – Yannis/Yanis or John Plagiotakis).
Eastern Crete - Lassithi:
3. Pithihtós (Stiakos)
2. Sirtos chaniotikos
Ikaria (Christiana Katsarou, assisted by Nikos Kouvaris).
1. Syrtós "Stou Pápa to bougázi"
2. Syrtós "Sgoure vasiliké mou"
4. Kariotikos "Symbethera" (and variations "tsik hop boom hop" and "tsik hop & boom")
7. Syrtós "Tráta"
Samos (Efthimios (Makis) Evaggelou, assisted by Filippos Purgiwths).
1. Abéli mou platifillo (palió syrtó - tsaboúna)
2. Syrtó Sámou - Na cha nero ap ton platano
3. Abas - Soysta (no. 1)
5. Strofi etog platanioako? (Turn right in plataniotikos)
7. Painémata gámou - old nyfiátikos
8. Kalabach tasiótikos - old soysta (no.2)
9. Soysta Sámou – Protovrochia - (no.3)
10. O Bárba - Mathiós (carnival)
12. Samiotissa (Kalamatiano)
13. Marathokabítikos (syrtó & bálos)
15. Politissa (Karsilamás)