When I Dance I Am I Greek by Carol P. Christ


Carol Molivos by Andrea Sarris 2When I first moved to Greece I spoke of being attracted to a culture in which people express their emotions easily and do not hold on to anger. In the part of American culture I know, the opposite is often the case: people do not express their emotions easily and hold onto their anger. When I joined a therapy group in Greece, my therapist said that I made the right decision to move to Greece. “You needed to learn to live from here,” she said touching her belly, “and this is where Greeks live.”

During the first years I lived in Greece, I often said that I wanted to become Greek. Like others had done before me, I romanticized Greece and the Greeks. Then one winter I learned that family violence is as prevalent in Greece as it is in every other country. The cultural ability to express emotion does not stop Greek men from beating their wives or Greek women from hitting children. Indeed the more expressive nature of the Greek culture may make it easier for Greeks to resort to physical violence. On the other hand, violence stemming from withheld feelings can be cruel and unpredictable.

I now recognize that Greek and Northern European cultural styles each have their strengths and weaknesses. It can be said that Northern Europeans live too much in our heads. Yet we are much better at planning a-head than the Greeks. It can also be said that it is good to live from the seat of our emotions. But when in Greece people start yelling at each other like the world is about to come to an end, I appreciate the restraint of Northern Europeans.

When I stopped romanticizing the Greek people, I stopped wanting to become Greek. At the same time, I had learned so much from living in Greece that I was estranged in many ways from the culture of my birth. I was a hybrid who was becoming comfortable in her own skin, but who would never feel fully at home in either of her cultures. A friend who had immersed herself in another culture described the position of a hybrid as “living between the worlds.” She added that people who choose to become hybrids often are drawn to do so because they never “fit in” to their cultures of birth.

But then there is dancing. When I dance I am Greek. I did not grow up in a musical family. I was told I could not carry a tune. My brother and I followed American popular music of the fifties and early sixties, but I had a hard time learning dance steps. The rock music of the late sixties and early seventies was another story. There were no steps. I learned to let go: my body swayed with the music while my feet found their own rhythm. I not only danced, I often was the first one up on the dance floor.

Living in Greece, I learned to love Greek folk and popular music. But for many years I held back from dancing. The few times I was coaxed into a circle dance, I stumbled. When I joined a Greek dancing class, I found it difficult to learn steps that others picked up immediately. I have always been right-left dyslexic and thus “three to the left, one to the right” is almost a “foreign” language to me. I ran from the class in tears more than once. Luckily for me, the dance teacher ran after me, insisting that I could learn, even though it would be more difficult for me than for the others.

In Greece everyone dances together, the young, the old, the nimble, the nearly crippled, the really good dancers, and the not so good. To dance is to live and to be part of a community. And I did learn to dance.

Green party dancing 1Not long ago Greek friends invited me to join a group of their friends at a benefit for the SYRIZA political party that is currently ruling Greece. “Will you have a good time?” my friend inquired. “I think so,” I responded, “I like to eat, I like to drink, and I like to dance.” Still, as an introvert, I don’t always like big parties, and I wasn’t sure if I would feel comfortable. The taverna was crowded and the music was loud, making it impossible to carry on a conversation. We ate, we drank, we watched the others, and shouted the occasional comment across the table.

Green party dancing 3Two of us were dancing in a dark corner when a table near the band opened up. We grabbed it, and from then on, the women in our party danced almost every dance, with the men joining us from time to time. One of the joys of Greek dancing is that you don’t have to have a partner, you just get up if the spirit moves you. When the band finally called it a night at about three in the morning, we hugged and kissed each other as if we had known each other for years. If music shapes the soul, my soul is Greek. Dance is a ritual of joy and communion.

 

Carol P. Christ leads the life-transforming Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (facebook and twitter).  Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology with Judith Plaskow will be released in June 2016 by Fortress Press, while A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess will be published in the spring by FAR Press. Explore Carol’s writing. Photo of Carol by Andrea Sarris. Photos of the dance by Michael Bakas.

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Categories: Body, Dance, Earth-based spirituality, Embodiment, General

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18 replies

  1. i love to dance but not Greek.. I love India style

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  2. All dancing can be a ritual of joy and communion, but traditional dancing (in many cultures) that unites communities across age groups and without the need for partnering, is special. This no longer exists in most places in the US or Northern Europe, but it still exists in Greece!

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    • Except for folk dancing groups. We are lucky in Madison (WI) to have the International Folkdancing Society that meets twice a week and someone teaches the dances for an hour before we then dance for several hours. We do mostly Balkan and Greek line and circle dances with an occasional partner dance thrown in. For me, it was ecstasy until I hurt my back.

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  3. Thank you for this post Carol! How lovely to let the music take over and let the body move! I remember Nico Kazantakis’ book: Zorba the Greek in which there were dark secrets – the widow who was ostracised because of being a widow; and of course the wonderful film … ‘Life, death, the whole catastrophe’ is a phrase I remember –

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    • Zorba is a troubling character in the film. Zorba was right that the (half) Englishman needed to learn to live in his body and to learn to dance. But in my view he was very wrong to encourage his friend to sleep with the widow without regard for the consequence-which was that the woman was stoned to death and the man got off without a scratch.This choice was part and parcel of Zorba’s selfishness and disregard for women. Most western viewers of the film assume that Katzantzakis was criticizing the Englishman while upholding Zorba as the ideal. In fact however, Katzantzakis’ own views were more conflicted. He himself was nothing like Zorba, and though he admired Zorba’s “lust for life,” he could not live in Crete (though he was born there), because his own values were much more European.

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      • Thank you! That’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone say that about Zorba. I thought he was the one the author admired, because he got all the good lines. I guess we can admire someone for some facet of their personality without having to take it on ourselves.

        I never thought of it exactly in this way, but reading this article I realized that I am split not two way, but 4 ways. I was born and raised in the U.S. in a Greek family, and after college I chose to live many states north from the one I grew up in. In some ways, I do belong to all four worlds, in other ways I don’t feel I belong to any of them. It’s been an interesting life.

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  4. p.s. The Widow knew the price she would pay, too. It was her choice.

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  5. I often dance alone, I hear the music on the radio, and the next thing I’m in some other world dancing in the middle of the room. Still I never feel alone doing it.

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  6. Carol, you are dancing in a group at FAR too, and In fact leading the dance!! :-)

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  7. OPA seems about right! Dancing heals the soul for sure. I also love the community of folk dancing. Hope to dance in a circle with you again soon!

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  8. Having lived for many years in the part German-part American culture of American German Departments (and also in Germany as an American for several years as well), I know what you’re talking about. I’m not exactly bicultural, but understanding two cultures well allowed me to be open to the Women’s Movement when I returned to the US in 1968. I didn’t fit into patriarchy, that’s for sure.

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  9. I’m in my ’60’s now and back in the US but I lived in England for 10 years, during the decade of my ’50s. I still wonder how I fit in so easily from day 1. It was almost like coming home. I moved back stateside when I became a grandmother and am the American born person I was most of my life but I am also that tied to the ancient Celtic culture of the British Isles too. I see and think I understand the idiosyncrasies of both of my countries but I am at a loss as to why I feel such a sense of place in a place so far away.

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  10. I love Greek food, folk music and dancing too – in my early years in Melbourne which was at that time, the third largest greek community outside of Greece – I was doing my tertiary studies and befriended 3 people whose heritage was Greek – I was eventually invited and loved going to their homes and sharing in the customs in the making and eating of Greek food … LOVE Greek food and especially at their Easter Celebrations . I also tried to learn a bit of their language too……. One of these friends Dee married and I was invited to her wedding – a wonderful rich traditional occasion and I remember now, that it was the circle dancing that I connected most with and that I felt I:belonged, in that moment, with the whole of Dee’s Greek family and friends. A lovely memory. …. One of my all time favorite movies is My BIg Fat Greek Wedding …. haha .Blessed Be ..

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  11. You are fortunate to live in such a place, where people not only talk to each other but actually dance! At the holidays i keenly feel the disconnection and coldness of my own world, being without family now. Ironically I run a “lady’s boarding house” and have up to 5 travelling women staying. I make coffee every morning, but 95% of my guests first thing grab a coffee, open the smart phones or laptops, and end of conversation before it begins. I feel quite often like a ghost in my own home, without the inconvenience of having to be dead.

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    • Oh cell phones, how often they intrude into embodied life. Lauren, I too struggle with being alone more than I always want. Yes I am lucky to live in Greece, though it is not always a piece of cake either. I don’t live in Athens where those new and old friends are, nor do I choose to. Maybe you could put up a sign in the kitchen saying: “It would be great if you look at your phone messages after breakfast, I’d love to meet and greet you while you are here.” Worth a try.

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      • thank you Carol. I understand. as an artist, I accept that a certain amount of loneliness is the price I often have to pay for the demands of creativity – perhaps as a writer you also experience that.

        Your suggestion is a good one, and your sign more gracious than the one I had in mind. Mine showed a picture of a cellphone, with below it: “how to discourage conversation and show others you find them as interesting as a turnip.” I’l try your much more elegant approach!

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