When 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.
Not 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.
Two 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.