CULTURE

Greek folk dancing is blossoming on Paros

Youngsters on the Cycladic island of Paros have hundreds of bars and cafeterias to frequent and wile away their summer holidays but many have decided to take up traditional folk dancing instead. Visitors to the island this summer were dazzled by the performances of the local Naoussa Paros music and dance group, which is due to put on its biggest show of all next year. The number of young people taking part in the performances suggests that many teenagers are looking for deeper, long-lasting enjoyment than the ephemeral pleasure of frequenting bars and nightclubs, even if it means wearing heavy traditional costumes on warm summer nights. The group has been putting on traditional dance performances since 1988. It was founded in the town of Naoussa by two teachers at the local school, Ipapandi Roussou and Lefteris Menegos. People of all ages from all over the island can join, and folk dancing soon becomes a way of life for members of the group. One young man, who left the island and is now working in Brussels, makes a point of dancing with the group whenever he is back visiting family and friends. Schoolchildren, university students and adults dance in authentic costumes as well as those that have been painstakingly copied from original designs and sewn with great pride by local volunteers. The costume production is very costly. Fabrics and other necessary materials are purchased in Athens and brought over to the island. The Roussos family has set up a museum in the central square of Naoussa of authentic Greek costumes that they have collected over the years. Donors have also come forward and the collection is growing steadily. The dancing is accompanied by live music played by musicians on traditional Greek instruments, including laouto (lute), toumbeleki (snare drum) and tsambouna (a type of bagpipe typical of the islands). The songs, too, are sung by members of the group. Apart from regional dances – they have over 100 in their repertoire from all over Greece and Asia Minor – the performances include little sketches portraying local customs, for example a typical Paros wedding. Practice takes place after school and work hours and performances are put on year-round. On August 23 every year in Naoussa Bay, the group participates in the reenactment of the raid on Paros by Barbarossa and his pirates in the 16th century. Young men dressed as pirates try to land from fishing boats but are resisted by the locals. The pirates demand to see the young women dance so they can pick the ones they like and carry them off. While the dancing is going on, the locals ambush the pirates and push them back into their boats. Finally, they are forced to leave and the beautiful young girls are spared. The group’s income is from the sales of tickets for the performances as well as music and books, which include a collection of recipes from Paros in Greek and English. Donations from sponsors are also welcome. The group usually travels abroad once a year to cities where folk-dancing competitions and festivals take place. In July this year they represented Greece at a Polish festival held on the outskirts of Warsaw. They have also represented Greece at events in several other countries, and also won a number of prizes. For the young people who travel abroad with the group, it is an opportunity to get to know the people of the countries they visit, their customs and cultures. They are hosted by local families and are taken out on trips and sightseeing tours. The performances of the Naoussa Paros group are spectacles of the highest quality that should not be missed. It is clear from their shows that much love and hard work goes into the preparation of each performance. Each one is steeped in history, tradition, rhythm and music. It is all great fun, for the audience, too.