Last Thursday (July 7, 2016) I had the chance to dance with a group of incredible women at Melissa Network's space close to Victoria Square in Athens, Greece.
Melissa Network is a network of migrant women in Greece dedicated to promoting empowerment, communication and active citizenship. Their space at Victoria Square opened during the summer of last year, providing a safe gathering space for migrant women of all ethnicities and nationalities.
A few weeks ago, I corresponded with Melissa's Nadina Christopoulou about the idea of facilitating a few dance sessions as part of Melissa's programming. With the end of Ramadan coming up, Nadina suggested we start by setting up a couple of dance sessions as part of an Eid celebration.
Once all the participants and I had gathered in what would be the dance room, I began
facilitating a movement sharing exercise. One woman quickly offered that she could try to translate from English to Dari/Farsi, which helped tremendously (thank you! Next project: learn Dari). From there we each took turns sharing one movement each, learning each others’ movements, and putting them together into one dance that we could all do.
After we completed a round of this exercise, the woman translating said to me, “The one girl would like to dance in twos.” I wasn’t quite sure what that meant at first, but I said, “Sure!” and gestured to the music that anyone was very welcome to change it as desired. One of the women took a moment to change the music (she was a stellar DJ and had a fantastic music selection), and with another woman she took the floor and began dancing (i.e. dancing in twos). The rest of us stood around the room and clapped to the rhythm of the music.
When the song finished, we clapped and cheered, and a new two women took the floor and danced another song. I joined in dancing with the two women for a moment, learning from their movements and exchanging dance ideas.
For the rest of the morning, we all continued to dance freely in the space. Our DJ was fantastic. She happily played a range of great music to match requests, and we learned from each other how to dance in different Afghan, Syrian, and Iranian styles. Amazing how many different kinds of dance there are in the world.
When the nail polish delivery arrived (painting nails was also part of the Eid celebration), we took a break. Mohammad, age 2, kindly painted my nails a vibrant blue.
In the afternoon after nail polish and lunch, the dance room started to fill again with some of the morning’s participants and some newly arrived women. Our DJ got the music going, and the dancing began.
I felt a little conflicted for a moment. I had planned several exercises for us to do together, but I found that those quickly lost relevance for the morning session. Since the women were having such a wonderful time laughing, smiling, dancing, exchanging ideas in a joy that unfolded naturally from what everyone wanted to do, it didn't feel right to redirect the atmosphere by introducing a plan that no longer seemed important. After all, we had achieved the greatest of all successes together: joy!
I decided to watch for a little while, enjoying clapping and laughing. When energy seemed to drop with the afternoon heat, I asked our new DJ (the room was full of incredible DJs) whether it would be okay if I played a song. She volunteered the speakers, and I put on a song called “Morgens um sieben ist die Welt noch in Ordnung.” This song is my grandmother’s favorite. After having chatted with a few of the women about my heritage and family in Germany, I thought it may be a good time to offer a dance of my own in exchange for those dances that they had shared with me. Four women and I then took hands, and we danced.
When we finished, several women from South Africa that work with Melissa led by dance teacher Mabel Fransisca Mosana suggested some music for a Zulu dance. A crew of us had a blast learning the Zulu dance (see video clip below courtesy of Melissa Network).
At one point, one woman from Kabul, Afghanistan asked me I could teach her a dance. I asked, “What kind? Ballet, salsa, tango, Afghan dances…” She said, “Not ballet… maybe salsa?” So we tried salsa! I put on some Enrique Iglesias (“Bailando,” a personal favorite), and taught the basic rhythm and step (“One, two, three! One, two three!”). We laughed a lot.
With that, after having danced Afghan, Syrian, Iranian, German, South African, and Salsa dances, the day slowly came to a close. The women went back home - mostly Elleniko refugee camp and some others - and I packed up the music.
My lesson of the day: most important thing is to share love and joy. I’m glad that we didn’t follow my prepared plan. It allowed us to find a way to share happiness that made sense for us as a diverse and singular group of people. Thank you to the incredible women who made Eid this year so special.