Dimosthenis Manasis began dancing at the age of three at his fther’s dance studio, he started teaching at the age of seventeen and is currently involved in promoting Greek dance with MANASIS, the largest Greek dance school in Australia.
Dance has always been an integral part of his life both personally and professionally, however COVID-19 restrictions have slowed things down. Events have been cancelled, but the pause has given Mr Manasis a chance to reflect and work on the preservation of some of the precious costumes owned by the dance school.
We asked him what life is like these days:
What have you been reading?
Neos Kosmos… religiously of course!
What are you watching?
Over the past few weeks I’ve been watching and re-watching some large-scale dance concerts/productions, looking for inspiration and ideas for our next big concert in 2021. I’ve always found that many other nationalities have taken their traditional/cultural dance to an artistic and exhibitionist level – an art form, and this has always been something with Greece has fallen short in. I guess it comes back to the simple-minded “what is traditional and what isn’t” argument. Many countries have National Dance Groups which often tour world-wide, exhibiting their customs and traditions through dance, but through a professional ‘staged’ production, by taking their cultural elements, and choreographing them into spectaculars. Examples of this include Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance (and his original Riverdance creation), KOLO – the National Serbian Dance Ensemble – as well as many other similar groups: Bulgarians, Georgians, Turks, Russians, etc.
What music are you listening to?
Friends of mine and fellow musicians who originate from Thrace in North-Eastern Greece have formed a band called Evritiki Zygia. They have recently produced an album called “Ormenion”. Ormenion is the final train station in the Northern-East most corner of Thrace, with lines splitting off into both Turkey and Bulgaria. Naturally, one can understand what an incredible cross-cultural fusion exists and has existed there for centuries. Evritiki Zygia are focused on presenting traditional folk music, with their own unique and dynamic style, as well as incorporating more modern style instruments like synthesisers into their mix. Based on their album description and their approach to their artform, i feel that our philosophies and approach to our chosen disciplines align. Currently listening to Track 3 on their album “Pente Nuxtes, Omorfi Vassiliki”.
What are you cooking?
I am absolutely useless in the kitchen, but fortunately my wife Alexia is an absolute master-chef! Like most Greek men (siga to pragma!), I pride myself on being the “Master of the BBQ”… So in a few hours I’ll be cooking up a few chops which I’ve had sitting in a marinate. Our children Zachária and Alkis love their “Sausage Sizzle”, so I’ll cook up a few ‘loukanika’ too… not the ‘kaftera’ type though!
What is keeping you sane at the moment?
The first few months are always incredibly busy for our dance school, with the plethora of community events – mainly outdoor festivals, as well as the Apokries Carnival Season Processions and National Day celebrations which we highlight annually. This means that throughout the following months we usually dedicate some time to mending and sewing the 500-odd costumes which are worn by our students. Every single costume in our collection (with the exception of a handful of authentic ‘foresies’ donated to us from various sillogoi throughout our community), have all been hand-made and sewn by my mother Sylvia, throughout the 1980’s for my father- Alkis’ original students. Some are really starting to show signs of wear and require significant attention. It never really ends, but it’s been a good opportunity to dedicate enough time to ensure their preservation.
Further to the costumes, it’s a mix between playing and tuning up many of the instruments in my collections – mainly traditional Greek bagpipes “Gaida”, and drums “daoulila”. These instruments are generally completely organic- wood, skin, reed, etc. so are temperamental with changes in the climate. In order to maintain them, they need to be played and retuned regularly- which is fine right now! It’s also been a great opportunity to get our children involved in their heritage. Our daughter Zachária loves her dancing, so we’re always streaming Greek music for her to dance to, and our son Alkis is already proving to be quite the drummer, so he spends parts of his day bashing away on the daouli! It won’t be long before we start taking him along with us to gigs!
Whilst keeping occupied in order to try and stay sane, I’m finding that trying to keep the kids occupied is driving me insane!
What is work like for you now?
Unfortunately, work life is completely stagnant at the moment. I’m blessed in life to be one of those people who get to ‘live and work’ their passion. Our dance school, and everything that it entails, including dance lessons, our students, performances, events, event management and coordination, is my entire life… Going from face-to-face teaching over 700 students a week, and weekend performances with the Dance Group or Band, to a complete ‘nothing’ is a very difficult reality to accept. Dance and culture is something that has been at the epicentre of my entire life from the beginning. It’s honestly the biggest and longest ever ‘void’, and not one at all by choice, so I’m hoping that restrictions can be lifted sooner rather than later so that I, and many others in our community can get back to life as normal.
What’s something positive you’ve witnessed or experienced since COVID-19 entered our lives?
Above all, it has given me the opportunity to spend far more time with my family than what I would have under normal circumstances. I feel that most families would share the same sentiment. I don’t believe you can use the word ‘positive’ and ‘COVID’ in a sentence, unless you’re reading test results.
One day literally drowning in work with no time at all, and the next day not having any work at all, all the time in the world to spend with the family, but then not being allowed to travel anywhere wither. Dilemma.
What have you learned about yourself during COVID-19?
Pan Metron Ariston.
That it’s ok to relax once in a while. Only once though… Then it’s back to work! The eternal list of ‘doulies’… both work-related, and ‘around the house’. It’s been a great opportunity to take a breather but I find myself ‘itching’ to stay occupied.
Where’s the first place you’d like to visit in Greece once travel is allowed?
My beloved horio – Myrini in Karditsa, Thessaly. The birthplace of my paternal grandparents, the late Dimosthenis and Fotini Manasis.