Interview with ΚΕ.Λ.Ε

Giannis is a 28 years old passionate dancer who has been dancing for the last 22 years. His father comes from Larissa, where he spends the winter and his mother comes from Thassos, where he prefers to stay in summer months. He majored in the field of Primary Education Teaching in his Bachelor studies, later on he completed his Μaster degree in Educational Leadership and Management. He was dancing in Κέντρο Λαογραφικών Ερευνών (ΚΕ.Λ.Ε.)*, where he currently works in.
* ΚΕ.Λ.Ε: Cultural research center

Today, Giannis talked about how he met ΚΕ.Λ.Ε, the Thassos Festival, the meaning of dancing like Greek, the well known Greek dance Sirtaki, the similarities and differences between traditional Turkish and Greek dances and the project he is working on with his talented partner, Zeynel Ozturk.* 

*Zeynel is the founder of Yunan Istanbul.

Zeynel Öztürk (left), Giannis Tsou (right)


MEETING WITH ΚΕ.Λ.Ε 

“After my graduation in Ioannina, I went back to Larissa. Afterwards, my instructors, Irene Siampeta and Kostas Gkitersos, suggested me to start doing something with some kids group. I really liked the way of educating children via dancing so I decided to focus on that. I started working more and did some researches on folklore, traditional dances, instruments and costumes. I am very proud that I started teaching 7 kids in 2013 and last year I monitored almost 250 dancers in 16 dancing groups.”

“ΚΕ.Λ.Ε is considered as one of the biggest dancing associations in Larissa. Plus, it is one of the most famous and well known in Greece with its 800 active dancers, varying from kids to adults. In ΚΕ.Λ.Ε., we conduct lessons for 42 different dancing groups with a wide teaching team. Our focus is mostly on traditional Greek dance types and researches regarding to their qualifications. Our team separates the regions of Greece and it really gets my interest. I feel lucky to be a part of this educating procedure where I get a chance to meet more people that share common interest with me. What ΚΕ.Λ.Ε. provided me is also an opportunity to collaborate with some other dancing groups in and out of Larissa. But most important part is that in KELE we have created a new family! This is the story and the evaluation of my career as a professional dance instructor.” 

THE THASSOS FESTIVAL

“Through KELE, we organize a traditional festival in the Limenaria of Thassos. We are inviting cultural clubs and dancing groups from all over Greece and offering dance presentations, workshops, guide tours around the island and various events related to Greek culture. Our festival was established three years ago and almost every year we host more than 400 participants.
Inviting dancing groups from abroad means a lot for us. For instance, we build relations with Serbia and Bulgaria. We hope to see more and more nationalities in Thassos; so that we get a chance to observe the common features of our music and dancing steps. I must note that with the support of ΚΕ.Λ.Ε, I have participated in a lot of festivals, which enabled me to dance with other dancers from different Balkan countries. Through those events, we discovered that our dance and music patterns are almost the same.” 

1 The definition of Κ.Ε.Λ.Ε. is Cultural Research Center 

A PROJECT FOR TURKEY AND GREECE 

“As we discussed with my friend Zeynel Ozturk, we would be glad to conduct an event either in Turkey or in Greece and perform Turkish and Greek dances together. It is true that the dancing steps are a bit different from each other; but the music of two sides has very similar spirit. As we all know, Greek and Turkish population used to live together for many years. In those two months that I am here, I really understand the volume of the shared cultural things such as common words, vocabulary and so on. “ 

A PATH TO TURKEY 

“Something new happened this year thanks to the ERASMUS PROGRAM FOR YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS. It was a good opportunity for me to visit another country and search about peoples’ interests in dance and particularly in Greek dance because that program was about supporting the people who want to build up something new on their field. Turkey sounded like a brilliant idea to observe the needs of those people who are interested in dancing and work with them, exploring myself at the same time.
I was lucky that I met Zeynel, who is in charge of YunanIstanbul studio, three years ago. YunanIstanbul studio was the first one that I found when I visited Istanbul for the first time. Fortuitously, Zeynel was already registered to that Erasmus platform so that we managed to match there. I came here on the 4th of July and made a tour around Istanbul to look around and to see the culture of the city. Zeynel was knowledgeable about Istanbul so he showed me some local spots besides the touristic ones. To be honest, I was really excited even it was not my first time.”

WORKING WITH ZEYNEL ÖZTÜRK

“For the first 20 days of the program, he showed me his choreography for Greek dances and I shared my expertise and choreography about those ones and others also. Apart from dancing, we were into music since he plays bouzouki2 and I play drums and davul.“Finding someone who thinks in the same way here was the luck of me. Zeynel follows his own choreography; but at the same time, he is the guy who acts like me. What we do is paying attention to the originality of the dance and to the posture of the dancer. He is really faithful on that so that it is easy for me to get along with him and to work together more. We would prefer working on the things that are not that popular today. Nowadays, we are analyzing the music from Greek islands which came from Asia Minor. I strongly believe that Turkish dancers are able to dive into the Greek music as well since the traditional dance of Greece is a mixture of Balkans and Asia minor.”

SIRTAKI 

“Later on, we decided to experience the streets to discover what people are looking for. As I predicted, most of the Turkish people were interested in the famous dance SIRTAKI. Personally, it is not my style because in Greece, people do not dance Sirtaki. There is a big misunderstanding about what Sirtaki is. It was created as a soundtrack for the well-known Greek movie, Zorba. It is composed by Mikis Theodorakis and its rhythm comes from Hasapiko and Hasaposerviko. The song starts slowly and gets fast later. However, Greek dance is more than Sirtaki. It can go into a category of Hasapiko, which is a wider category. Hasapiko is originated from Istanbul since the age of the Byzantium. “I want people to understand that Greece is more than Sirtaki; but Turkey is also more than Çiftetelli when it comes to traditional dances.”

DANCING LIKE GREEKS 

“A Hasapiko choreography is not something strictly ruled, it should vary depending on the group who dances it. For instance, we are two or three friends who are dancing a certain song and we have our own choreography. Of course, there are some basic steps which everybody is in charge of following; but it must also be open to improvising. This is exactly how I like to dance and what it means to dance like Greek: Having certain steps; but mostly following the music and to express yourself in your very own way. If you dance like Greek, you don’t have to think about the next move, you just follow the music and feeling it, trying to express yourself. You don’t have to count the steps; whenever you think about counting the steps, you would lose your focus; that’s how it works.” 

“We are very close in dancing and music patterns with Balkan Countries apparently. Our performing style follows kind of the same way. The biggest difference between the other cultures is the form we use during our performances. In Greece, we mostly use the open circle style , we hold each other most of the times. The other countries mostly form lines and that is maybe one of the reasons for Sirtaki to be more popular, as it follows that rule.”

“Today, people are getting influenced by other dancing cultures. The original Greek dances do not have this element, they are freer and more expressive. We don’t pay that much attention on starting to dance at the same time all together. All that matter is to be involved in the dance and to feel what the song says. In KELE, while we are teaching, we always go deep into the details of the songs such as the name of it and its historical occasions. Let us not forget that traditional songs were the local newspapers and books of that era, referring to various occasions. If people can understand the importance of those originality details, they can really feel what they hear and dance.” 

THE WAY OF TURKISH AND GREEK PEOPLE DANCE 

“What I saw is that the Turkish dances are much more disciplined and a bit more folkloric than the Greek dance types; what is common between those two is the idea and the ability of expressing themselves through that procedure. I am really curious to see how Turkish and Greek people come together and how this is going to look like. I don’t really know if there is a magical recipe to get them together but it is certain that they will learn something from each other.”

DANCING IN ISTANBUL

“To be honest, I didn’t expect that people in Turkey would be so interested in Greek dances. I thought they would only know Sirtaki music; but during our workshops, I have noticed that people are really into the Greek music. They just listen to the music and all they desire is to come in the circle and join us. That was the biggest motivation for me.”
“Greek dance is not an individual dance; it is not like tango. I feel good when I perform a Greek dance because I know that I am holding the hands of my friends or the people who share the same interest with me. When I danced in our workshops, I could easily see the same passion. The people are not stereotyped and they don’t have the idea of discrimination in their minds. They embrace Greek music without a second thought.”

“I got disappointed when I faced with the crowded places and the traffic. Plus, the taxi drivers who drive literally like crazy (laughing). It was hard for me to adjust in a metropole city, because my home city Larissa is so small so that I was not really used to operate the things in such a fast tempo.”

“I can’t say I am disappointed by Turkish people. One of the surprising things for me is to see how people are spending most of their times by running from one place to another. They seem like they are always in some kind of rush, but maybe this is something that they are also accusing Greeks for: Doing everything slower! (Laughing) This might be a gap. It is not somebody’s fault, anyway.”

“The thing that frustrates me is the lack of the recycle bins around. That is so strange and disappointing for me! I was feeling sorry every time I was using plastic bottle of water since I was throwing it into the rubbish. While the environmental issues are reaching to the top in these days, I can’t believe how a city of 20 million people, doesn’t choose to recycle. It is just unacceptable! State has to do something about that issue.”

“I fell in love with the food and the spirit of the city. Istanbul is not a typical European city like those that I have visited! I strongly recommend all of my Greek friends to visit.”

REMEMBERING THE PAST

“In this era, we don’t have the same feelings with the ones who live in the past. Therefore, it is not easy for people to comprehend the deep meaning of traditional dances. It is the same for me as well.”

”My teachers, Irene Siampeta and Kostas Gkitersos, have those traditional images on their minds since they witnessed them in the past, so that they are able to reproduce those images again; but it is not easy for me to comprehend that vibe completely. Best I can do is follow their path and their knowledge.”

“Nowadays, this is the simplest difficulty which people deal when they want to learn how to dance properly the Greek traditional dances. We are living in a modern and fast way of life, we can’t fully understand the meaning of living a traditional life without TV and internet. A life more hard to survive, a simpler life away from big cities where music and
dance were the elements of your social identity. There are some elders who are able to understand those things and they can easily compare it with the current situation.”

“In recent years, traditional dance in Greece has become even more popular. More and more people are getting interested in it.”

“I hope that it will attract more young people -like me- in the near future. This is also the way of preserving the civilisation and the cultural values of our nation. I am sure that it is literally important to share this mission with young generation and I wish to see more support from the state and the government regarding to that effort.”

“For my dancing club, ΚΕ.Λ.Ε, we haven’t received even one euro from the government last 23 years that we operate on this sector. All those cultural events are covered by our own member fundings and all money we earn is invested for the costumes and the researches. I am sure that the municipalities should indicate a little bit more in those cultural groups.”

“I am feeling a little bit emotional nowadays, since these are the last days of my Erasmus program. I miss Greece, but I know that I will miss Turkey, my partner Zeynel Ozturk, the people I met in our workshops. The “Erasmus Program for Young Entrepreneurs” was such a beneficial opportunity. I m sure though that end of the program doesnt mean the end of collaboration with people I met here. We have lots of things to do in Turkey. I will do my best to come back and organise these kind of workshops and seminars either in a studio or out in the streets, this is my target for the following years.”

“Zeynel Ozturk is going to try to prepare some groups from Turkey to participate into the festival which we organize in Thassos.I would like to invite all people to Greece, not only to the touristic spots but also to the spots where they will understand what Greek culture and traditional music is. Then its easier for them to understand how close our cultures are!”