Greek culture is a celebration of tradition and family, with a history rich in art, food, and – as three blondes discovered at Calgary’s Greek Festival – lively dancing. Of our three family trees, mine has come closest to Grecian soil, but that’s only by way of my step-mother’s ex-husband. Needless to say, we’ve never been invited to any family reunions. We’re always up for a party though, and as we quickly discovered, going Greek guarantees a great time!
This year’s Festival was attended by thousands and took place under a giant white tent in SouthWest Calgary, next to the Hellenic Community Center. The late June air was filled with the wonderful smells of honey drenched pastries and spit roasted lamb. I can still taste the sweet warmth of the Loukoumades on my tongue when I close my eyes – and yes, they’re just as sensational as their name. After a delicious meal, we took our seats third row from the stage, having no idea we were to become part of the show!
I blame my outfit. I wore blue and white to blend in, which of course made me stand out as someone obviously trying too hard. Apparently, dressing up like your country’s flag isn’t as universal as I’d hoped ~sigh. The guest DJ from Toronto, DJ La Vie, took up the mike to entertain us while we waited for the Edmonton dance troop Kyklos. La Vie soon had all the kids dancing on stage, and even managed to convince one brave little girl to sing. But, as I soon found out for myself, you just don’t say no to DJ La Vie. The stage cleared and I overheard the DJ asking something while pointing at his wrist.
I poked my friend and whispered, “he’s got to kill some more time.” I’ve MC’d before, and I recognized the hint of panic in his eyes. Then those eyes focused on me.
“Let’s get the girls in the third row up here!” the speakers boomed.
I did the only thing any self respecting blonde can do in that kind of situation. I put up my arms and “Yeee-WHooood”. On the seat beside me, one friend turned deep crimson, and two seats down, the other was in a state of denial.
“He’s not talking about us is he?” she kept repeating, to no one in particular.
At the risk of losing two of my favorite introverts to fainting spells or heart attacks, I dragged us all up on stage. You don’t say no to a big man with a microphone, let alone a tent full of hundreds of Greeks!
Up on stage I tried to explain how I wasn’t Greek, but that at least I had dressed in the colours.
“I didn’t ask you if you were dressed!” teased DJ La Vie.
Ya, time of my life. Then he “asked” us to dance. It was like a scene out of Degrassi Junior High – The Horror Movie. How many stories in 17 Magazine start just like this. My non-existent cool-kid life flashed before my eyes. There was nowhere to run.
“Dance!” commanded the DJ.
I didn’t know who would be in more trouble if we didn’t, him or us. Then I saw the answer. Never has a 13 year old boy in a Hawaiian shirt and thick glasses looked so appealing. He’d been one of the ones rocking out the hardest earlier, and, low and behold, was within arms reach. If you’re out there, my darling, know that you have been a knight in shining armor to at least one woman, and I’m sure there will be many more. I grabbed him by the hand dragged him back to center stage.
I don’t really know what happened next. It was an out of body experience, but I do remember there was plenty of belly-dance style hip shaking and arm (I’d like to think elegant) flailing. And I suppose I must confess, lest my husband find us on YouTube, that I picked up the Hawaiian shirt (which the boy had expertly stripped) and windmilled it around my head like a bachelorette at a sketchy Vegas nightclub. Greek? Who knows. Entertaining? I can only hope.
My poor friends were living out their own hot-seat nightmares behind me. Mercifully, our final awkward bow (and the crowd’s even more merciful applause) came quickly. We took our well earned prizes and ran back to our seats faster than three blond Mercuries. Oops, I mean Hermes ~wink. The Kyklos Dance Troop were amazing, with excellent costumes and footwork. They thrilled us with a surprise knife fight finale, which left one of their members dead on stage. Now that’s the kind of dancing I could get into, but perhaps not quite the routine to practice at The Roadhouse!
My friends and I, after having stared into the abyss and living to write the tale, were cocky enough to throw ourselves right into a whirling circle of Greeks for the next dance segment. It’s harder than it looks, but, like group chanting, the intensity creates a surreal moment of communion. I thought I would be prepared after rehearsing the footwork under my chair (another elegant moment), but the focus required to stay on beat was so intense my hands were literally dripping the moment I began to dance. One of those hands was linked with a stunningly beautiful, yet clearly unimpressed, dark haired young Greek woman. I can tell you I felt a new sympathy for all my sweaty palmed middle-school dance partners!
The second circle cleared us out quickly with an increasing tempo that I’m positive was composed hundreds of years ago just to filter out posers such as ourselves. The footwork switched to a dignified version of the cancan, although there was no dignity in the way I kicked my poor friends’ ankles all the way around the stage. After we ran off with our tails between our bruised legs, the stage filled with practiced pros, spinning and stomping with incredible energy and grace.
Showing everyone up were a grey haired woman with perfect rhythm and a young man with perfect execution. Together, they had a strange, yet potent chemistry that transcended age, experience, even generations. Being as acutely Canadian as I am, I could only dream of such a pure cultural connection with a lumberjack, and only if we came across each other in the middle of the woods while both wearing full body plaid ~sigh.
Ah well, if it’s anywhere near as much fun to dance Greek as it is to pretend, than I’m practicing up for next year – and DJ La Vie… Watch Out!