A Love Letter to Greek Dance


Anastasia Petridis

Anastasia Petridis dancing.

By Anastasia Petridis

The hat looks heavier than it feels. Colorful flowers cover the right side of my head, while thin chains dangle on the left attached to metal medallions. A thick, itchy strap secures the hat on my head while I dance and turns the skin under my chin tart red. A ruffled piece of white cotton falls down my hair. 

The first time I ever danced in front of an audience, I ran away screaming. I was three years old at my first ballet recital. I was not thrilled. 

At the time, my family lived in Athens, Greece. I lived there until I was seven before constant rioting and a decimated economy forced my family to move and join the rest of my extended family in the U.S. in 2010. While I attended American school during the day to assimilate into U.S. culture, I continued learning the Greek language, history, dance and culture from Greek teachers at night.

Twice a week for two hours, I would go to the St. George Academy of Aristotle with my mother and aunt, who both taught their own classes. And no English was allowed. 

Dance practice was always my favorite part of Greek school. We would break from academic lessons and learn traditional steps, sing each song, and learn the story behind each dance. 

There are thousands of dances and styles from each village in Greece, each varying in music, speed, and rigidity — and we learned a lot of them. We would always dance “O Giatros” and everyone’s favorite, “Podaraki,” among some of the easier and more fun traditional dances.

The first time I ever performed a Greek dance, I was in first grade at the annual Greek school gala performance in the St. George church hall, where the kids got to showcase what we learned every week. In our school’s blue shirts and dress shoes, we were a paradigm of children’s dance performances; dancing in a circle to an off-beat rhythm with our hands clasped together while we looked around timidly.

Any child would agree that extra school and homework are not something they do willingly, so when my mother and aunt stopped teaching at the school when I was in fourth grade, I also stopped going. 

However, despite my lack of attendance in Greek academics, I continued to grow more and more serious about Greek dance; it became my obsession. The circular moment of the dances hypnotized me. Anytime I met a new person, the first thing they would learn about me was that I am Greek, and then they would learn that I dance. 

I began dancing for the St. Luke Olympian dance group with middle and high school aged kids in my area when I was in sixth grade and continued until I graduated high school. We mostly learned dances from the Macedonian, Thracian, and Cretan regions because those were the uniforms the church owned, but we dabbled in all regions. 

Each region’s dance has their own characteristics: Macedonians are slow and rigid, Thracians shuffle and change directions a lot, and Cretans are quick and sharp. The distinct music and dance styles from different regions of Greece enchanted me, and I loved learning the history behind them. 

I especially love the Pontian dances because they are so stylistically different from the Macedonian and Thracian dances of my heritage, much looser and bouncier. They have distinct instruments: the Pontian lyre and the daouli drum, and a lot of the dances and costumes resemble pieces of Arabian dance culture, like the dabke dance and colorful Turkish folk clothing, due to Middle Eastern influence in the Pontus region.

I spent hours learning and choreographing my own performances for competitions and watching grainy videos of niche dances on YouTube. Nothing brought me more joy than dancing, donning my hat, my colorful dresses, and my heeled shoes. 

So, I also joined the Pan-Macedonian Youth of Philadelphia dance group during my sophomore year of high school; I was younger than most other dancers who had already graduated college. My entire family had waited for the day that I would join, especially my Uncle Christos who had been the Greek dance teacher of most young dancers in the Philadelphia area for decades. 

I danced with them through three years of hard work and a pandemic, where I practiced and performed at countless Philadelphian Greek festivals and Independence Day parades. I even spent time with the other dancers going out after practice and attending Greek social events, and I consider all of them to be my second family. 

Surrounded by people who understood the generational weight of our practices, I had a connection with this family that transcended the time that we spent together. 

However, as I reached college age and was preparing to go to Emerson, I realized I wouldn’t be coming back for another year. 

I tried out for different dance opportunities around campus, but none could fill the void that Greek dance had left. The isolation I felt after being separated was only exacerbated by the lack of a Greek community at Emerson. I would look forward to going home because I could dance again, as dancing alone in my dorm room to Maleviziotis couldn’t compare. 

After one danceless semester at Emerson College, I missed it more than I realized, and a rough start to my second semester forced me to confront the fact that I had to find a way to reconnect with my passion. 

I scoured the internet for Greek dance groups in Boston, optimistic by the number of Greeks in the area, and was able to find the Sons and Daughters of Alexander the Great in Arlington. After viewing their Facebook page, I sent them an email saying I had danced for the Philadelphia group for a few years and was interested in joining. 

They emailed me back immediately: practices were every Monday at 7 p.m. And although I received their email on a Monday well into practice time, I took an Uber immediately to St. Athanasius Church to meet them. 

The small group of local Greeks was immensely welcoming, made up of around 15 dancers ranging from the ages of 17 to 52. In fact, the leader of the group, a whimsical eighty-year-old man named George Papadopolous, is from a neighboring Greek village to mine and happens to know my sói, my entire extended family line. I began dancing with them weekly, even getting the chance to perform with them in New York City over spring break. 

Even though I haven’t been dancing with them for very long, I already feel the intrinsic connection to our Greek traditions in the Boston Macedonians. A different yet familiar sense of home sprouted once I began surrounding myself with them.

After spending a semester apart from Greek dance, I was able to grasp the importance of nurturing my connection with my culture. There are no words to describe how thankful I am that Greek dance followed me to Boston, helping me navigate the difficulties I face and being the constant in my ever-changing life at college. I am looking forward to the family I gather and our performances and celebrations during my time in Boston. 

My makeup will be perfect, with bright red cheeks and lips. My shoes are painted black. An old metal belt is hugging my torso. The hat looks heavier than it feels.