“Feet together. Starting with the right. One, two, one, two, three, together ...”
And with those simple words from Areti Tsiola, an instructor at the Greek Cultural Center, her folk dance class is off and dancing.
Last Saturday morning, the students were as eager as ever. Greek-born Dimitra Karapiperi, who now lives in Astoria, has participated since last year. “I like the traditional Greek dances,” she said. “You learn history through dancing. The dances from Crete are hard to learn. They’re very fast, but I love them the most.”
Katerina Pantos, 72, joined the class recently, and for her, the experience is especially sweet since, as a young woman, she was forbidden by her father to dance.
With the help of a translator, she explained that her older sister would be sent to dances to meet a prospective husband, but Pantos was not allowed since she was younger.
Now a widow, Pantos, a native of Sparta, said dancing “is a way to connect. It’s a nice way to communicate and meet other people.”
“Left, brush, in, together, left, back, three, together,” Tsiola continued, explaining that the finger-snapping sfarlis is a dance often punctuated with verbal exclamations, sometimes involving a call-and-response between a dance soloist and the rest of the group.
Tsiola, a biologist who teaches and does research at Queens College, was born in New York but grew up in Greece and tries to include in her classes many of the hundreds of different Greek folk dances, which represent different parts of the country.
One of the basic dances is the syrto, a 12-step dance which Tsiola said can’t be compared to anything else.
She turns up the sound and brassy music from northern Greece plays, Tsiola and her students clasp hands and begin the circular rotation that typifies most of the country’s dances.
“At any Greek party that dance will be danced,” Tsiola said.
“A lot of people don’t get exposed to these dances,” she said. “It’s a wonderful way to bring people together. It’s a social event. The shape of the circle symbolically embraces people.”
In addition to dance, the center offers lessons in the bouzouki, Greece’s trademark instrument, which, according to instructor Antonis Tsimounis, “became the spotlight of the society, even in popular music today.”
The classes, which cover technique, melodies and history from the Golden Age of Rebetico — an urban folk music — consist of students of all ages, bound by the instruments they study. “A forgotten core of Greek folk music is reborn with this medley of musicians,” Tsimounis said.
Groups are created according to individual ability. Students are required to bring their own instruments to class.
Drama enthusiasts will have the opportunity to see “The p-Roject,” a theatrical experiment based on “The Persians,” Aeschylus’ tragedy, that describes the naval battle of Salamis.Two actors will portray all the characters.
For more information on programs at the Greek Cultural Center, call (718) 726-7329.
When: Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. – noon
Where: Greek Cultural Center, 26-80 30 St., Astoria
Cost: $20 for one month of lessons.