Alkis Raftis is the president of the International Dance Council at UNESCO, Paris. He is an avid dance researcher, with an emphasis in the ethnographic study of traditional Greek dance.
Raftis attended the Greek Orthodox Folk Dance & Choral Festival (FDF) for the first time in 1991 when it was held in Seattle, Washington. In his article in the 1994 Oli Mazi titled, “Tradition and Diaspora,” he describes his fascination with the annual Greek Orthodox Folk Dance Festival – how it was unlike anything else he’d ever seen before. Having attended numerous events in Greece and abroad, Rafts is no stranger to Greek folk dance festivals. But with over 100 dance groups in attendance, he was overwhelmed by both the size and excitement surrounding FDF. According to Raftis, “You felt you were attending the final moments of a basketball game, such enthusiasm, such a level of anxiety, such cheering.”
Each group travels by air, stays in a local hotel, creates their own costumes, and manages multiple choreographers and dancers. All of these expenses come out of the pockets of the dancers and their families, demonstrating the incredible level of commitment that comes from each participant.
This gathering of dance and heritage has had an incredible effect on Greek youth. Many have never visited Greece and do not speak the language, yet they live and express their Hellenism passionately. Raftis explains, “Tradition is now at the tip of the thrust of Hellenism in the diaspora. Our language, religion, and other Greek attributes are less enduring in the face of our contemporary lifestyles than dance and music.”
Greece itself may be drifting economically and morally, but the culture is flourishing, not waning in the face of cultural assimilation. Music, dance, and song are playing a significant role in keeping Greek culture alive.