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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Greek Patriotic Celebrations:
Recommendations for Belly Dancers

 

By Panayiota Bakis Mohieddin

 

 

 

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Introduction

Greek Patriotic Holidays

Throughout the year, there are several patriotic holidays celebrated by Greeks, both within Greece and also throughout the diaspora.

These holidays include:

  • March 25 is Hellenic Republic (Greek) Independence Day, and it is celebrated as the beginning of the 1821 revolution that led to the liberation of Greece from Ottoman Turkey. The war continued until a treaty in 1829 established the independent Greek state. Celebrations continue throughout March, April, and early May.
  • October 28 is Oxi Day. This day is also known as the "Day of No". It marks the day in 1940 when Greece refused to let Italy occupy certain strategic areas of Greece during World War II.
  • November 17. In 1973, students at Athens Polytechnic University protested the military-run government. Tanks stormed the gates, killing and injuring young protesters and soaking them with tear gas. This turned the public against the government, and it was overthrown the following year. Today, people who visit the site where it happened carry red carnations to honor the memory of what happened there.

All of these holidays include political and patriotic music in their observances.

Apart from the above historic days, the Greek people also observe many other days throughout the year which represent national mourning, victory of re-capturing specific regions, and religious holidays.

Celebrating Hellenic Republic Independence Day

For Hellenic Republic Independence Day, Greeks in the diaspora celebrate via parades and going to church. Right after the parade, families will often go out to a restaurant for lunch or dinner.

Younger adults attend parties at nightclubs. There are many of those nightclub parties, particularly on weekends before and after the actual day.

For this holiday, people generally wear blue and white. School children in Greece and throughout the diaspora walk in the parade. The girls wear white button-down shirts with blue skirts, and the boys wear white shirts with blue slacks. Usually the one who is academically the top of the class will lead the line, holding the flag.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo was taken when I was 21 years old in the Anatolian Greek refugee district of Ayios Konstantinos (Άγιος Κωνσταντίνος) in Agrinio (Αγρίνιο). In the photo, I am wearing the blue and white clothing that is traditional for Hellenic Republic Independence Day.

There has been recent controversy when non-Greek children, especially a young Muslim child, became the top of the class and thus were chosen to be the flag holders. This caused controversy which I don't agree with. I feel the children earned the honor through their achievements.

Using Political and Patriotic Songs in a Belly Dance Performance

Depending on the community, sometimes belly dancers are hired for Hellenic Republic Independence Day and Oxi Day. Although typically dancers wouldn't be hired for a November 17 observance, dancers who perform regular gigs for Greeks at restaurants or other occasions could still incorporate political music into their normal shows around that time to give a nod to the day of memory.

Experienced dancers often advise their students to avoid using political songs for shows. This is generally good advice for when the performer doesn't know much about the political situation in the region, or the political leanings that audience members are likely to have.

However, there are times when political songs could be welcome, even if the lyrics speak of war, victory, economic struggle, exile, etc. It all depends on which people of origin you are performing for.

With Greek audiences, it doesn't matter so much, so long as these songs are used in connection with national holidays. It could be awkward if you are hired to perform at a political social club whose members belong to a specific political party — and the song you chose happens to support another party! Usually, though, this doesn't happen. Just check on the lyrics. When I translate these songs, I try to provide guidance to help dancers with these decisions.

Most political Greek songs speak about political events, the pride and love of the country, and references to historical figures.  I highly doubt a Greek would be upset if a dancer used a song like this on a national holiday.

This article offers some tips for dancers regarding ways to bring elements of Greek patriotic spirit into their shows for these occasions.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo was taken of my brothers when they were children in Boston, together with our Thia Maria. Every Greek has a special Thia Maria! We were all on our way to downtown Boston to begin our Greek parade festivities. In Boston, and other parts of the U.S., we usually don't observe our holiday on the exact day. Each community chooses a Sunday convenient for them. The costume that my brothers are wearing is called a Tsolias (Τσολιάς), and the skirt is also known as the foustanela (φουστανέλα). It contains 400 pleats, one for each year of slavery under the Ottoman rulers.

 

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Making an Entrance

If doing a belly dance performance near one of the patriotic holidays mentioned at the beginning of this article, you can make a memorable entrance that shows your Greek audiences that you understand enough about their history and culture to make choices that are perfect for the occasion.

One option is to walk (not dance) to your stage area as the Greek national anthem plays. See the tips below for suggestions on how to do this in a way that demonstrates appreciation for the importance of this music. Alternatively, you could use one of the songs listed in the "Just for Listening" section below.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo shows me, as a child, wearing the Greek national costume in church at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox church of Boston (Άγιος Νεκτάριος). On our major National Holidays, the children usually gather at their local Greek Orthodox churches to honor the day in prayer, celebration and performance. All Greek school children recite national poems and songs, and also perform Greek dances. The traditional costume I am wearing is called an Amalia (Αμαλία Φορεσιά). The Amalia folk dress got its name from historic Queen Amalia, who was the wife of King Otto. Both were from Germany and not of ethnic Greek heritage. Although the clothing style is named after Queen Amalia, it was definitely not her creation. Many Greek women wore similar fashions, depending on the regions they originated in.

The Greek National Anthem

If you use this music to make your entrance, you should walk in a dignified way, (not dance). I recommend wearing a garment such as an abaya or another belly dance cover-up that completely covers your dance costume.

If you decide to use the national anthem in this way, you should do absolutely no shimmies or other recognizable dance moves. Do not play finger cymbals to this music.

When you reach your stage or dance floor, encourage the audience to sing along with the anthem. Do not remove the cover-up until the anthem has ended. Once it ends and your belly dance music begins, remove the cover-up the same way you would remove a coat, taking care to avoid making it look like a strip-tease.

The Greek Flag

If the space you'll be walking through on your way to the stage or dance floor isn't too crowded, you could enter holding the Greek flag in one hand on its pole, waving it in time to the music. When you reach your dance floor, carefully hand it to someone to take away before the set begins.

With this approach, the audience realizes the dancer is showing knowledge and respect for the importance of the national holiday! I have used this method many times in my shows. It's greatly appreciated!

Belly dancers should never use the Greek flag as a prop in the way they might use a veil in performances. Nor should anyone sit or lie on the flag! In my opinion, this is unacceptable and disrespectful, even when done by Greek-American belly dancers.

Do not ever put the flag on the ground!

 

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Political and Patriotic Songs
That Could be Included in a Belly Dance Set

Audiences are likely to enjoy hearing certain songs with a patriotic or political message about Greece being used as part of a belly dancer's set. Other songs, however, are not suitable for a belly dance performance.

Here are suggestions for some patriotic songs, complete with lyrics translations, that will warm up an audience for Greek patriotic celebrations.

 

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Political and Patriotic Songs
Just for Listening, or Folk Dance

These are patriotic songs that every Greek knows and will enjoy hearing. However, it's best not to belly dance to these.

Songs

Examples of such songs, with links to their translations, include:

  • Ellada (Greece). By Thanos Petrelis.
  • Ellada Eparhia (Greece's Countryside). By Melina Aslanidou. This song is appropriate for zeibekiko.
  • Ida Ston Ipno Mou (I Saw in my Dream). By Notis Sfakianakis.
  • Na Tane To Ikosi Ena (I Wish it Were 1821). By Grigoris Bithikotsis (and many others). This song is appropriate for the line dance hasapiko, and if you wish, you could encourage the audience to get up to dance to it as you leave.
  • Ta Klemena (The Stolen). By Notis Sfakianakis. This song is appropriate for zeibekiko.

Using These Songs Before Dancing

One way to use these "just listening" political songs would be to begin your playlist with one of these as a prelude, staying backstage until the song ends. Then, for the second song on the playlist, choose a high-energy entrance piece to make your appearance, perhaps holding a Greek flag in your hand as described above.

It's possible the audience won't realize you are the person who chose the song for their benefit, but when you dance knowledgeably through the rest of your set, they are likely to figure it out.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This is my beautiful mother, Evangelia Symeonidou-Bakis (Symeonidou-Bakis (Ευαγγελία), a very talented teacher, folk singer, and folk dancer who left her village in Greece at the tender age of 17, leaving behind her mother and brother, to pursue her education through full academic scholarship, leading to a career in the United States. In this photo, she is wearing the Greek national costume.

After the Performance

Upon finishing a belly dance show, you could shout, as you exit, "Zeeto ee Hellas!" which means "Long live Greece!" Audiences are likely to respond warmly to this and appreciate the dancer's gesture to the importance of the occasion.

Another way to use the songs on this "just listening" list is to place them on your playlist to follow your final song. Exit as your final song ends, then let the patriotic song play for the audience's pleasure after you have left the stage. This will leave them with a lasting favorable impression.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo was taken of my brother Dionisios when he was a child. He was named after my grandfather's brother who died in the Asia Minor war at the turn of the century. His costume is called a Tsolias. It contains 400 pleats, one for each year of slavery under the Ottoman rulers.

 

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Songs About Soldiers

Military Service in Greece

In Greece, military (army) service is mandatory for young men. It is not mandatory for women to serve. Often, many Greek men born in the diaspora don't apply for Greek citizenship because doing so automatically calls for mandatory service.

Usually, by age 18, a young man going into to do his service. A musician may be given the option to serve in the military band, and someone who is headed to the university may be allowed an extension wait until after graduation before serving.

Soldiers are sworn in typically on a Sunday in front of friends, family, and their lovers! They are not given a choice as to which location they will serve in, unless, of course they have powerful connections who will pull strings to let them choose which city and area to serve in. These connections may also help them shorten their service time, meaning they won't serve the full mandatory term.

ABOUT THE IMAGES: The upper image is the coat of arms for the Hellenic (Greek) Armed Forces as a whole. The image below it is the seal representing the Hellenic Air Force.

Musical Memories

Loyal teen-age girlfriends or fiancées of these young men patiently wait for their partner to be complete his service. Therefore, we have many love songs and political ones referring to soldiers. Soldier songs, regardless of what era they are from, are hugely popular. Most Greeks know these songs, and when they hear them, they are brought back to their memories.

 

Using Soldier-Related Songs for Belly Dance Performances

Soldier-related songs are great choices to include in belly dance sets as described above for national holidays, as well as for birthdays or other Greek celebrations that may be honoring men who have served — even if they served in the U.S. military. If the song mentions soldiers and is fun loving, use it!

There are many Greek-American men who served in the U.S. military but also had ties to Greece. Some of these songs are just about one soldier, so it's safe to use them either way for gigs.

One thing to note: In Greece, you don't randomly say to a soldier, "Thank you for your service," as people often do in the U.S. In the U.S., if you see a soldier in uniform, it is common to make this remark; however, in Greece they will think you are crazy, especially if you don't know them!

ABOUT THE IMAGES: The upper image is the seal of the Hellenic (Greek) Army. The lower image is the seal of the Hellenic Navy.

Suggested Songs

  • Ela Stin Parea Mou Fandare (Join Our Company, Soldier). The original song title was "O Fandaros". Lyrics are about a soldier who goes out for a night on the town on his night off.

 

 

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About the Author

This page was contributed by Panayiota Bakis Mohieddin, who is happy to share her culture and music she grew up with! Here's how Panayiota describes her background:

I always love engaging with intelligent like-minded people, especially artists. I love sharing anything and everything about my Hellenic culture and upbringing, especially music and dance. A conversation with me will bring you back to America's favorite Greek-American movie by Nia Vardalos called My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

I love investigating Greek culture, history, music, and dance. Speaking of investigating, I think I missed my calling, I probably should have been an investigator. Instead, I use those skills to dig and dig and dig tirelessly, often times falling asleep on my laptop... just to find the truth. But, most importantly, accurate truth. For me personally, and other respectable folklorists, my culture and accuracy are very important. Each generation of ethnic born artists has a duty to do the best it can to pass down our traditions as was taught to us. We have been given this artistic gift to be the gatekeepers of our heritage and culture.

Panayiota

 

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