Vasiliki Mavrogiorgi … and suddenly contemporary dance is happening on Ikaria

Vasiliki Mavrogiorgi … and suddenly contemporary dance is happening on Ikaria

It‚is a rainy and stormy mid-December evening – the kind of day you would normally spend at home, sitting next to the fire. But the sports hall of Agios Kirikos gymnasium is packed with people. Right now the last note of the song  „You are the one that I want“ (John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John„Grease“) echoes for a long time in the hall and seconds later, roaring applause sets in.

A big smile radiates over the lead dancer’s face – Vasso Mavrogiorgi is her name. She then bows and asks her group to join her. More than 45 dancers – aged between 2 ½ and 50 years old –  join her – they are sweating, bright smiles on their face, too, and they happily receive the recognition of family and friends and the many other visitors, who came to  watch the show.

What a success! Vasso, who’s not only the lead dancer, but also the organiser of this show, can hardly believe what‘s happening that evening. She managed to guide her group through a one-hour performance. A show made up of 18 different scenes, built on a story written by her mother Frosso  which Vasso transformed into a performance for modern dance.  It‘s a story about a fairy, who wishes so much to offer her help to a real human being. She finally finds a little girl, who is suffering from cancer and who because of her sickness, faces loneliness and fear. So the fairy settles in her head. She calls upon her assistants „faith“, „hope“ and „patience“ to help her in guiding the little girl through her treatment. But when „fear“, „difficulty“, „despair“, „loss“ and „pain“ show up as well, they start a fight about the right guidance for the little girl. In the end – of course –  „faith“, „hope“ and „patience“ are on the winning side – a lesson which Vasso deeply believes in: life should not be dominated by fear, but by faith, patience and hope so that you have a chance to live in the present moment.

A lot of work went into adapting this story into a dance routine.  It took six months to create and the dance steps were not the only thing Vasso had to look into. By choosing the right music, the lighting, designing the costumes and make up, Vasso became her own musical, technical and artistic director, controlling every detail of the whole production. But the warm applause and her students‘ big smiles are washing away all the doubts, the stress and the anxieties of the last couple of weeks. It was probably at that moment, that Vasso knew for sure that she was right to come back to Ikaria to try for a new start.

It wasn‘t planned that way, even though Vasso grew up in Therma and spent a happy childhood there, in the mountains and the sea around her village. She liked the freedom she was sharing with her brother and friends while playing outside – there was nothing to be afraid of. Whenever she wanted to escape in her dreams, she would just cuddle up on the windowsill of her favorite window in the family house on the hill overlooking Therma, where she could enjoy the sea view all the way to Fourni.

At that time, there was no indication that one day she would become a dancer.  Actually, when she was a teenager she liked modern dance, but there was no chance to learn it on Ikaria. So she followed the traditional dance courses and signed up for athletics at Agios Kirikos sports club. It suited her fine, but at the same time, she carried on watching modern dance performances on TV or on the internet.

After she finished high-school, Vasso wanted to become pre-school teacher so she headed off to Ioannina. She was sure that one day, she would come back to Ikaria when time would come to raise a family of her own, because she could not imagine a more beautiful or safer place for a child than her native island .

But first Ioannina and then … who knows? There are no coincidences in life. When she stepped out of the bus upon arriving in Ionnina, Vasso found herself standing in front of a dance school for modern dance. Without a second thought, she walked in and signed up for a beginners‘ course … all this before she had even found a place to stay or got her papers for university. So Vasso spent her years in Ionnina studying two different subjects at the same time. Where others might have argued about  stressful time management, Vasso was energized by the thrill of her studies. With her 18 years she was already a bit old to start the dancing lessons, but this didn’t hold her back. On the contrary, she enjoyed the training, getting to know to her body and what it could achieve from head to toe. And she loved to dive into the different types of dancing, such as ballet, modern and latin dance.

After she finished her university studies and her exams at the dance school to become a professional teacher, Vasso went to Athens to try and make a living. She was lucky that a good number of her friends from the dance school followed her and they all ended up going to different dance schools – some as students, others as teachers. Despite the worsening of the economic and financial crisis in Greece, which had a deep impact on young artists in Athens, these were good years for Vasso. She found a job in a kindergarten and she was able to cover her living costs. At the same time she signed up for an additional course to become a preschool teacher for children with special needs. At the same time, she was either giving or taking dance lesssons in a dance school in Athens. Even though juggling three different jobs was sometimes difficult, Vasso gained a lot of experience and she enjoyed her progress in dancing. Finally she even plucked up the courage to participate in European contests for Latin dance.

But then the unexpected happened. One evening after the general rehearsal for an important dance performance, Vasso was attacked in the streets of Athens. Fortunately she was not physically harmed, but she was in shock. Nevertheless she managed to take part in the performance on the next day, but after that she just wanted to go back to Ikaria to recover. But she had to wait another month to complete an exam as part of her training as a dance teacher.  When she arrived in Ikaria, she was finally able to look after herself. Vasso spent the summer with friends and family, but at the end of summer she kept postponing her return to Athens again and again. Here on Ikaria she felt safe and comfortable; the call of the big city was not really challenging her at this time in her life. She realised her thoughts were more and more focussed on the idea of staying  on Ikaria. But how?  It was not easy to get a place at a kindergarten to earn enough money to make a living. So Vasso played with the idea of opening her own dance studio in Agios Kirikos. She was hesitant, but her friends reassured her. They not only reminded Vasso that she was a professional dancer, but also about the fact that there was still no modern dance studio on Ikaria. So one evening, while sitting with her friends at a kafenion in Therma, she made the decision to give it a go. She would open the first modern dance studio on Ikaria! And when Vasso decides to do something, she doesn’t give up on her plans.  And out of the blue, when she told her father about her plans, he immediately  pulled all the strings to find a  studio for her. And indeed within a day he was successful and a little while later, Vasso was able to announce that the dance studio „xoro xronos“ would open its doors in Panagia. Vasso lowered her expectations at the beginning. She knew that her dance studio was a completely new idea for Ikarians. Even though many of the people she knew in Agios Kirikos and in Therma promised to pass by and to support her, she couldn’t assume that they would really show up. So Vasso told herself: „If I manage to have even just one student, I’ll have writtena success story. In case I manage to teach that one student that dancing is an art – an art to transform your feelings into movements of your body while listening to music, my success story will be even more incredible.“  With this idea in mind, Vasso waited for her first students. She put up some posters, but she didn’t have the money to pay for more marketing activities.  And finally, surprise, surprise … a woman from Evdilos stepped into her studio. She had no background knowledge about modern dance, but liked the idea to test it. She made all the way from the other side of the island to Agios Kirikos to get into dancing … and she stayed. Two little girls, two sisters, followed her.  It was a start and supported by word of mouth – still the best way to spread the word on Ikaria. Finally, more and more people became inquisitive about this new activity. A year after opening her studio, Vasso counted more than 20 students on her registration list. And when the second year came to an end ,she was even able to double that number. Even some boys of different ages were among her students, enjoying this new form of physical activity to the fullest.

Today Vasso offers three different types of dance lessons: ballet, modern dance and Latin dance. Her days are fully booked, because somehow the results of all the different pieces of her education are finally falling together: in addition to her courses in the studio, Vasso offers dance lessons to people with special needs. She is also touring the island to introduce modern dance to a small group of people in Evdilos, where they are practising in a private house.

But how does she manage this fully packed time table, without neglecting her own physical training? Vasso takes a moment to find the right answer: „You know“, she says, „I am perhaps not a so called ‚typical Ikarian‘ with the anticipated ‚laid back attitude‘. I am very dedicated to my work and to my goals. Perhaps living in a remote place like Ikaria makes me appreciate even more what I have and what I want. I love living on Ikaria. The island is balancing me, I love the quality of life, to be near friends and family and close to nature, to the sea. But at the same time, I am dedicated to progressing in my work. I want to get to the next level of Latin dancing. In order to do so, I have to spend a few days each  month in Athens. This involves a lot of planning: buying tickets, organizing courses, preparing the trip. But I want to do it. Living in a remote place doesn‘t mean that I should be deprived from realizing my dreams. The means are here, I can do it. Of course it is more difficult than if I was living in Athens, but it is possible. I don‘t have an excuse for not doing it.“

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Vasso was able to write that success story in the sports hall of Agios Kirikos on a dark winter day in 2018. She’s  dedicated to her work. She believes that everything is possible as long as you really want it. Perhaps you may not be able to achieve your goal directly, but it will happen as long as you go for it. It is this strong belief that Vasso is passing to her students. While stretching and training their bodies to perform the dance moves they want to, her students have to concentrate and to practice a lot, they have to be patient with themselves and with others, they have to follow instructions and then… miracles can obviously happen. The roaring applause and the students‘ bright smiles were a clear proof of this theory. Can you imagine what could happen in the future on Ikaria, when a growing number of Vasso’s students leave her studio after the rehearsals with the clear belief that: „I can make it happen“?

(@ Birgit_Urban)