Elena Zepou – I hang up my ballet shoes between goats and chicken and I am fine with it

Elena Zepou – I hang up my ballet shoes between goats and chicken and I am fine with it

Elena bends her body up and down at the ballet bar. She closes her eyes and little by little she gets into the rythm of the music, she put on this morning: ‚ Cesare Pugni –  The Esmeralda Variation ‘. This is her moment, this is her ‚time out‘ before a busy day starts off.

She is testing some steps and after a short time she’s crossing the big room at different speeds and with different jumps, giving birth to the choreography she developed in her mind over the last couple of days. When she finally turns the music off, grabbing her towel, there will be no public applauding to her performance. There is only silence and a broad smile on Elena’s face.

She made it. She made it to this place in Panagia, a village near Agios Kirikos on Ikaria. She can call this room  her own, a space that she has transformed into a modern Pilates Studio. She came a long way down to make it happen, but it was worth all the efforts. She found her place, she found her purpose.  What more can you expect at the age of 36?

While Elena is changing her clothes in order to get ready for her first Pilates lesson of the day, her mind wanders back to the moment when she first stepped into this space, knowing that this would be the perfect place to connect the two worlds she was living in.

On the one hand she was the ‚city girl‘, living in Athens, having a decent job working in  advertising agencies for thirteen years. In addition she had built a career as a  dancer, performing ballet, contemporary and belly dancing with different groups in Athens and beyond. With these activities she had the lifestyle of modern women: on the road most of time, running from one appointment to the other, living most of her time in the car, being stuck in the giant Athenian traffic jams, forgetting about cooking and housekeeping, as time was just too short to do everything she wanted to do: doing well in her job, dancing, meeting friends, being distracted by different kind of activities.

On the other hand, she had her life on Ikaria. Since her childhood, she spent all her holidays – summer, Easter, Christmas – on the island. She felt like a true Ikariotina, even though she was born in Athens. In the house of her Ikarian aunt she felt freedom. Endless summers by the sea and in the mountains, playing with cousins and friends; long winter evenings at Christmas, cooking, baking and listening to the stories of the elderly people.

Growing older she always developed ideas to come to Ikaria and to live here, but somehow it never happened.  So she continued her hectic life in the city, coming to the island to recharge her batteries.

But in 2017 love was the reason  to stay and make her dream come true. She got to know her boyfriend from Plagia and this was the time to pack her things and to move to the  village of Plagia, a remote place, where time seems to stand still. Until today there are no regrets. Elena doesn‘t miss any aspect of her city life. Now she is putting her roots into the small house next to the church of Plagia.

Here she has not only her dog to look after, but also a large patch of land where she grows fruits and flowers and – when she has some spare time – she helps her boyfriend with the goats and chickens. In this place, happiness got a new definition.

Now happiness is in when the women in the little platia of Plagia greet her in the morning, asking her when the next Pilates session will be. Then she knows that she can make an impact, that things can happen … even in remote, traditional places like Ikaria.

When she came to Ikaria, she already had in mind to open a Pilates studio. During her last years in Athens, Pilates became one of her favorite activities and main goal. She invested in her training to become a professional Pilates teacher  as she likes how the full body workout of the Pilates method can change  people’s self confidence. Of course, ‚Pilates was something new for Ikarians, but Elena didn’t have any doubts. She wanted to offer Ikarians the same facilities for physical training as in the big cities. Elena doesn‘t see any reason why you should be deprived from good quality physical training, just because you live on a remote island. Therefore she decided to open a Pilates studio on Ikaria, in exactly the same style as she would have done downtown Athens.

She put a lot of effort in transforming the whole  space in Panagia into a modern ‚Pilates studio‘. The colours and materials were carefully choosen and when she finally opened the door and her first customers came in, they were very surprised to see what can happen on Ikaria.

Over the years Elena was able develop and extend her activities. Now she‘s offering Pilates, stretching, dance and ballet lessons. More than 50 people have subscribed for her courses.

Even in remote Plagia, Pilates lessons are now taking place in the old school house. Talking about it, Elena cannot hold back a certain joy.

She likes the fact that physical training is now happening in a place where you still can smell the sweat of generations of  pupils struggling with Homer’s „Odyssee“.

Now she can teach in this place how physical training can contribute to balancing your soul and your well being.

And she can see the results. Those who had been sceptical about this kind of physical training in the beginning are now the most enthusiastic when it comes to common, social activities.

When Elena asks her ‚students‘ to participate in hiking tours in the mountains, they are all coming. Different age groups are gathering and the group sets off.

Learning from these experiences, Elena is  thinking about new activities. As she is interested in education and is concerned about the environment and animal protection, she’s already elaborating at the back of her mind a choreography for children, teaching them  how to take care of the fragile environment on Ikaria. Perhaps she will perform the first steps of this choreography tomorrow morning, when she has her little “time off”.

She will think about it tonight, while she collects the fruits from the trees in  her garden in Plagia or takes her dogs for a walk. There, maybe she will have an idea for the right music. But this is for tomorrow. Now she has to take care of her dedicated pupils. While Elena is preparing the last details for the next lesson, she takes a deep breath. Yes, this is the place where she can make things happen, this is her place, where she can develop her ideas. Remote Ikaria is offering her the space and the time to develop her ideas, to find her path. Does it need more to describe a good life?

(@ Birgit_Urban)