“He is not simply dancing. Greek music and Greek dances are a way of life for him. He never attended events just to do dance steps, but to live and to enjoy it with his parea,” says Greek dance instructor Nikos Papaefthimiou of the Australian merakli Peter Williams.

For over 30 years, many would have witnessed Peter participating in a number of Greek dancing events, going crazy to the zonaradiko and pontiaka.
While an incurable disease now keeps him bedridden, he hasn’t lost his passion for Greek dance and music in the slightest.

“Pontos is where is my heart is,” he says without a hint of hesitation in his voice.

This strong connection was evident when a few of his friends visited a few days ago, accompanied by their instruments, to play some of his favourites. Without even realising it, he says he started tapping his feet along to the rhythm, his body and soul still willing him to dance.

“Five minutes!” That’s how little time people advised me to spend interviewing Peter; though to everyone’s surprise we ended up talking for almost half an hour.

Fortunately, he was having a good day, experiencing very little pain at that particular moment and so he was very eager to talk to Neos Kosmos about his journey with Greek dance and culture.

For a Greek, it is fascinating to see a non-Greek person having so much passion for traditional Greek music – something that could only develop in a multicultural country like Australia, where people from all around the world can share their cultures and inspire others to do so.

For Peter, his love affair with Greek dance started at Murrumbeena High School in 1977.

“Seventy per cent of the students were Greek. It was the year when the school wanted to involve parents, so one of the things we did was run Greek nights. I had the key to the hall and the Greek kids said ‘if you come along to a Greek dance you have to Greek dance’. And I said ‘what?’,” he recalls.

A woman by the name of Gwyneth Jones happened to be starting up a Greek dance group at the time, having developed a keen interest in Greece’s culture.

The initiative aimed to get both Greeks and Australians involved – Gwyneth saw Peter dancing one night and to his surprise asked him to join the group.

“Hopeless as I was – but it’s the soul, it’s the kefi – it just pours out and there was something in it! So I got interested in this thing called Greek dancing and it is such a rich, vibrant thing. It can be soulful, it can be playful, phonetic and it’s just wonderful!

“And then you’ve got all the different regions and styles! You are about to start reading a fairytale here and all of a sudden you have an Encyclopaedia Britannica, so it was great!” he says enthusiastically.

It was between 1991 and 1993 that he decided to take his new found interest seriously, travelling to Greece to meet with a number of dance teachers who would introduce him to dances from specific regions.

While in Greece, when not at work he took every opportunity to immerse himself in Greek dance.

Having joined ΧΟΦΕΘ, a Greek dance group in Thessaloniki, almost every night he would catch a bus to a different village to learn their traditional dances.

He remembers people being amazed at his commitment and enthusiasm, hearing time and time again, ‘but you are Australian! You are not Greek and you are not from our village, why would you like to learn the dances?’.

“When you think about it, it was a pretty crazy thing to do! I hadn’t realised before how much the culture and the dance were combined. These traditional songs are a living culture,” he says.

Deeply inspired upon his return, Peter took the plunge and offered to help Gwyneth teach Greek dance, to which she agreed.

“The Greek kids at the school were so delighted that an Australian teacher was excited about their culture,” he says.

“This really was a strange thing – an Australian teacher teaching dancing to Greek kids, a little bit treloutsikos! I honoured their tradition. What they got was somebody who really appreciated what they were – who they were.

“I love teaching, and I enjoyed teaching Greek dancing. I was given so much in Greece that it was almost a duty to share, to give something back.”

Just as I ask him whether he has a favourite region, under all the wires and tubes attached to his body I catch a glimpse of a huge tattoo of a Pontian lyra and ‘Pontos’ written in big Greek characters across his arm.

“I got it at the end of December 1999,” he says.

“When you dance pontiaka and have your hands up, what do you see? A tattoo of Pontos! I know why they put all the blood injections through there … because that’s where my heart is!”

Touched by his words, I tell him, “Pontos never dies”, to which he responds, “never dies. Precisely.”

Through his journey, Peter is most thankful to the various Pontian Associations and dance group ΧΟΦΕΘ, who welcomed and accepted him, a kseno, as one of their own. And of course, he is grateful for everyone’s encouragement at Murrumbeena High School, where it all began.

“Efharisto para poli,” he says, thanking me in Greek. “I’ll be dancing pontiaka with the angels.”

Kai ego s’efharisto Peter, I too thank you and wish you well.