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Christopher Copeman

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Greek dancing in the United Kingdom.

Copeman, Christopher: "Greek dancing in the United Kingdom", 14th International Congress on Dance Research, Aridaia, Greece, 13-17/9, 2000.

Introduction

My investigations have been trying to find the answer to the question "Where can you find Greek dancing in the U.K., and who does it?". At present this is still "work in progress", and I will be very glad to hear from anyone who has further information.

It is clear that there are various groups and individuals involved in Greek dancing, but on the whole there seems to be little communication between them. Enquiries made in one group rarely yield much information about other groups. The Global Dance Directory of the International Dance Council (CID) will be a great help in this field; I have made some important contacts by using it. I have also used the Year Book of the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, which has many useful addresses and up-to-date telephone numbers. But much of the evidence I have gathered has not been as solid as I would have wished. I have often been told of dance activities that I have not been able to verify. It is at present still not always easy to contact the organisers.

It is not only Greeks who do Greek dancing in the U.K. There are also plenty of non-Greeks, some of whom have never even been to Greece or Cyprus. Of course, the standard of dancing varies, from the skilled and faithful folk dancing of the best London groups, to the less skilful but enthusiastic "knees-up" versions of the Syrtaki and Zorba's Dance that are found at "Greek nights" and Greek restaurants.

Non-Greeks come to Greek dancing from two main directions:

(a) International folk dance enthusiasts, who are interested in folk dancing from all countries, find in Greek dance another kind of folk dance to be experienced.

(b) People who have enjoyed holidays in Greece or Cyprus, and have seen dancing there, sometimes want to take it up when they return to their own country. In the Sixties, following the films "Never on Sunday" and "Zorba the Greek", both of which portray dancing as an "escape" from the pressures of modern industrial society, the "Syrtaki" and "Zorba's Dance" became very popular, and this has led to an interest in other - more genuinely Greek - dances.   Some people, who have never been to Greece or Cyprus, join Greek dance groups or classes because their friends do.

1.  Greek Orthodox Communities

Most of the Greeks in the UK are Greek Cypriots. Historically, Cyprus has close links with the U.K. Until 1960, Cyprus was a British Crown colony, and many Greek Cypriots, with British passports, have become resident British citizens. After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, many more, displaced from their villages in the north of the island, came to the UK to join relations and friends. In this respect, the Greek Cypriot communities are different from other Greek communities in Europe. They are Greek, but also British, and many now regard Britain as their permanent home. They play a full and important part in British society, but most of them are keen to maintain their links with Hellenism and the Greek language, with the Orthodox Church, and their Cyprus homes.

In the U.K. there are more than a hundred Greek Orthodox churches, within the Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, and these provide a focal point for the communities. Many of these are in the London area and the Midlands, but there are churches in all parts of the U.K. Some of the churches have their own schools, operating in the evenings and at weekends, where Greek Cypriot children can learn the Greek language, and be taught about Greek history and the Orthodox faith. Where dance teachers are available, the curriculum also includes folk dance. Children are taught not only dances from their Cyprus villages, but also a range of other Greek dances. Sometimes there are classes for adults, which may be open to non-Greeks.

In addition, the communities organise fund-raising social events and "Greek nights", to which they invite non-Greek friends. Often there is a live bouzouki band, and dancing. The dances are mostly "Laika" (popular urban Greek dances), but people occasionally dance other dances from Greece and Cyprus, and sometimes the children put on a folk dance display.

2. University and College Hellenic Societies

Every year thousands of Greeks come to the UK to study at universities and colleges, among them young people from Greece and Cyprus who danced in their homeland and are keen to keep up their dancing. Many universities and colleges have Hellenic Societies. These organise "Greek nights" and discos, where there is often Greek dancing. Where there are keen folk dancers, they may form a Greek Dance Group, and organise classes for other students. Some of them help by teaching children in the local community schools. Of course, since students are usually only in the U.K. for a few years, the continuation of dance groups tends to depend on the enthusiasm of individual members. Information about such activities can be obtained from the Hellenic Societies, many of whom have their own Internet web sites.

3. International Folk Dance and Circle Dance Groups

In the UK many non-Greeks belong to International Folk Dance and Circle Dance Groups, some of which are affiliated to the Society for International Folk Dancing (SIFD). They meet weekly or fortnightly, and learn and perform dances from many countries, but especially from Israel and the Balkans. Circle dances from Greece are often included, and Greek Dance workshops are sometimes organised, occasionally with an invited Greek teacher.

Details of groups within the SIFD can be found on their web site: www.sifd.org/sifdhome.htm. Information about other groups can be found at local libraries.

4. Greek Dance Groups and Classes

In addition to the groups and classes organised by the Greek community, there are a few others, organised by non-Greeks. Some of these are exclusively performance groups; others are social and interest groups who welcome new members and are happy to teach beginners. The names of some of the teachers and organisers can be found in the Global Dance Directory of

the International Dance Council (http://www.unesco.org/ngo/cid).

In London it is not difficult to find Greek dance groups and classes. There are several established Greek folk dance performing groups, including that of the Lykeion Hellinidon (Lyceum Club of Greek Women), the Lyra Greek Dancers (http://lyra-dancers.future.easyspace.com), and the Philhellenes. A number of Greek schools have their own groups. The Lykeion runs classes at the Hellenic Centre (www.macedonia.org.uk/hellenic/), and the Lyra Dancers at the Mary Ward Centre (http://www.marywardcentre.ac.uk/HA.html). Some of the schools have lessons for adults as well as for children.

5. Greek Restaurants

Many Greek restaurants play Greek music to accompany a meal, and, as part of "the Greek experience", may encourage their customers to dance. Some hotels and restaurants organise special "Greek nights", with a live bouzouki band. There may be a folk-dance display. Sometimes there is a belly dancer, and waiters perform a Zeimbekiko or Syrtaki, before all the customers are invited to take part in a touristic "knees-up". Though such activities can hardly be taken seriously as Greek dance, they often encourage an interest in it.

Christopher Copeman

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