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George Kongas

Traditional Greek dance in education.

Kongas, George: "Traditional Greek dance in education", 17th International Congress on Dance Research, Naxos, 22-26/10, 2003.

One of the positive elements that exist in the Greek educational system is the teaching of traditional dances. The existence of this course dates back in the years of mid-war when the famous professor Sakelariou introduced the course at the gymnastics academy. Of course, we should mention that since then Greek traditional dance has gone through a lot of stages and phases of diversification.

During the years of mid-war the meaning of research was not known. The technique through which Mr. Sakelariou conducted his own research is completely unknown to us. Nevertheless, we should refer a bit further to the years of the mid-war as that was the period when Greek traditional dance went through diversification until about 1980. During that period the prevailing stance was that of the first Governor, Kapodistias: "This is what it is being done in Europe, that is what we must also do". In other words, the European idealism was in favor.The government played also a very important role, especially during the dictatorship of Metaxas. At those times festivities were held at Calimarmaro Panathenion Stadium, celebrating the anniversary of the 4th of August. At these festivities dancing groups from all over Greece participated. These groups were all school groups.

At those times groups that inserted new interventions were awarded. The famous dance "Macedonia" was such intervention. According to my opinion I believe that in other dances lots of interventions had also been made. The basic reason for these interventions was the weakness for research. This fact is obvious in old films of Greek cinema where the heroes wore the foustanela. In each film of that time Greek dancers played a major part. In the film "The earth stained with blood", which took place at the Thessalian plain, the women danced the dance "Kori Eleni" together with men. This is a good example to stress out the interventions as the specific dance is only for women according to tradition. Unfortunately, the Greek cinema played a negative part in the continuance of tradition as the interventions were made easily according to the needs of the script.On the other hand we can meet the existence of Greek traditional dancing at the festivities for the regime during the dictatorship of the colonels. Unfortunately I do not have enough sources to prove that interventions were made at those times as well. In general Greek traditional dances were not seen favorably by the majority of people. In fact they were perceived to be old-fashioned and for lower class.

After the civil war, in the 1950's, the dancing groups in and out of the schools seem to flourish. Nevertheless, the teachers did not have the appropriate background and experience. So, interventions were being made without second thought. In the 1960's we observe a decline in the activity of the dancing groups which did not belong to schools, while the school groups continue to do well. During the 1950's and the 1960's every end of the school year was celebrated with school sports, which included traditional dances. At those times, mostly girls went in for traditional dances.

The period after 1974 was another threshold for Greek traditional dance and its diversification. For several years dancing groups from Eastern Europe visited Northern Greece in order to show their work. Greek teachers adopted their techniques and choreographies in order to enrich the Greek dances.Due to the fact that a lot of mistakes, malpractice and diversification has been made as time went by, we should understand that there do not exist absolutely accurate versions of traditional dances. My personal belief is that the lack of government intervention holds a great deal of responsibility.

After having discussed about the most crucial influences of intervention in Greek traditional dances let us go on with its position in the Greek education.The course of Greek traditional dances is being taught only in the institutes of higher education and in the gymnastics academy of Athens, Thessaloniki, Thrace, Thessaly and Serres. From the very first time that the course was initiated until today many things altered. Today we could say that it is in a good stage concerning loyalty to tradition.Several years ago the course of Greek traditional dances was pretty popular at schools. During the last years, though, both students and teachers seem to have lost their interest in it. Apart form that the teaching hours offered were more in the past. While today the course is being offered for 2 hours per week for two semesters. Not to mention, of course, the fact that students still believe that Greek traditional dance is mostly a subject for girls!

After the 1970's the situation seems to get more difficult and complicated. Most of the teachers had lost interest in teaching traditional dances and those who tried, had to face the reaction of the students. Only the dancing groups that did not belong to schools seemed to be doing well, holding on with tradition.The most popular dances at schools during the period before the 1970's were the following: Kalamatianos, Tsamikos (the version with 16 steps), Pentozalis (a different version than the original one from Crete), Karagouna, Makedoniko Pidixto, Koftos, Giatros (the version with 10 steps and handhold from the shoulders), Kerkiraikos etc.

We should mention that the dancing technique used reminded more of physical jerks rather than dancing. Luckily, today this has changed due to several reasons. The need of the people to search for their cultural routs together with valid research played the most important role. Another reason was the initiation of traditional Greek dance majors in the gymnastics academy. This major created the need for research both for teachers and for students. This research was the greatest step towards the most accurate performance of Greek traditional dances.

Nevertheless, there were some difficulties that had to be overcome. The Greek traditional dance major was initiated at the gymnastics academy of Athens in the school year 1984-1985. The next year it was initiated at the academy of Thessaloniki and after that at the rest gymnastics academies of the country. As a result, the teachers with this specialty that graduated are a lot and there do not exist enough working positions. This is a problem, though, that will be solved soon

Another major problem that we should stress out is the criteria used for employment in the gymnastics academy. It is imperative, though, that skilled people are found and appointed at the above mentioned academy so that the level is higher. For that reason the teachers have to be chosen based on objective criteria, such as perfect knowledge of the subjects and ability to use it.Furthermore, we should mention that a great obstacle towards the upgrading of the gymnastics academy is the curriculum offered. There are certain people who pull the strings in each academy and sometimes the curriculum is formulated based on their interests. Of course, this subject is not to be discussed at the moment.

The time is not enough to elaborate on such serious subjects. Let me go on with another serious issue concerning Greek traditional dance in education. What worries me the most is the fact that there are many teachers at schools who, without having any experience, decide to teach traditional Greek dances and present their work at the end of the school year. The result of their work, though, comes out to be bad because of their ignorance. Here is the actual program of a specific lyceum:“The students will present to you the following dances: Xasapiko, Siko xorepse sirtaki, Fragosiriani, Xasapikos grigoros, Xasaposervikos and for the finale we will enjoy the dance Ta paidia tou Pirea”. For those who do not understand my point is that all those dances are exactly the same dance. It is only the music that changes. It is up to you to come to conclusions about what is going on at schools!

We should also stress out the fact that the students who dance the above dances are only girls, which is unacceptable. Their outfit is provocative with tight jeans and shirts, which is totally unacceptable for presenting Greek traditional dances. With such a sight one could easily think that these girls are not students but professional dancers at nightclubs!In other school groups we come across with girls being dressed as boys in order to be closer to tradition, they say. This is the most unacceptable intervention one could do to tradition ladies and gentlemen. The reason we exist in the educational system is to provide knowledge and avoid such conditions. Nevertheless, it is us who create them.

The teaching of Greek traditional dances in all levels of education has to follow certain rules and ethics. Some years ago the Ministry of Education instituted the Panhellenic dance contest for schools, which consists of two phases: the preliminary and the finals. Although it is a very good institution, it is not being run every year, as it should be because of financial reasons. However, even when it is being run the contest is not equitable. The students who take part are also members of a traditional dancing group outside school. So, things for the school teachers are much easier as they do not need to put in any effort and knowledge to win the first prize. The work presented by the competing students is not their own.

Very few schools present their own work and even fewer do it well. The rest put together a program without any special preparation and when they present their work they ask for the viewer’s forebearance.I personally am totally for the recent decision of the Ministry of Education which imposed the teaching of Greek traditional dance in day schools. Regardless, though, my enthusiasm I am also worried if we will be able to use this privilege in a positive and constructive way.

Greek traditional dance survives only through the organized dancing groups which do not belong to schools. It is time that it returns where it belongs, the schools and the Greek educational system. The merits that come along with Greek traditional dance are a lot and valuable. The sense of rhythm and motion, the team work, the aesthetics and the knowledge of tradition that it offers should not be neglected. Dear conventioneers, my text was not the outcome of any research or source. It does not contain the work of any other person. It is the result of my personal work and my experience all these years.

Mr. George Kongas



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