A research on laiko

This integrated assignment will be an experiment on the bodily expressed cultural behavior.

In Pierre Bourdieu’s explanation of the notion of Habitus, which he describes as “not only a structuring structure… but also a structured structure”, (1984, p. 170) the different categorizations (different habitus) are opposed by their modus vivendi and their understanding of notions, in a classifying system. That is, whatever one practices or finds normal, adequate, their taste etc. has to do with the person’s habitus and it is, at the same time what makes them closer to people with similar habitus and differentiates them from others.

Cultural practices and perceptions are a great part of the habitus. Dancing, not as a scholar activity, but as a passe-temps in social contexts (bars, clubs, feasts), in my opinion, has invisible rules that fall within the habitus notions.

As Hanna (2002) mentions, "dance is assumed to be a universal form of communication. But culture, context, and knowledge of a dance genre affect one’s understanding of it" (Hanna 2002).

When one dances to certain music, what will they dance? Are specific patterns appearing? Do they concern a certain cultural non-verbal understanding? Are they local or universal? What role do specific “dances” (with a name and steps) play in these understandings?

My current practice concentrates on the body practices of the Greek millennials in their nightlife enjoyment, both dance and general movement patterns and the reasons why they occur. My main interests-findings from this ongoing research are about pain and pleasure, releasing and rituals. I am trying to approach this subject through artistic, anthropological, sociological and psychological practices.

In this case, I am trying to study the bodily interpretation of music of a certain genre, locus, and time, which I have already been studying (Greek laiko songs from the 50’s-80’s), to get a first embodied example of locality versus universality of movement combined with music. The means that I have chosen to research this in this case is this very specific genre of music and my anticipation of the movement which will be produced by what I thought as two categories/classifications: Greeks vs Non- Greeks, Dancers vs non-dancers.

The music I chose for this experiment is an attempt to include many different sub-genres, connected to different specific dances, or to no dance at all. The fact that some of these songs coincide, in cultural terms, with different dances (tsifteteli, zeimbekiko, Greek folk) and also the lyrics factor, which can heavily influence the perception of a song, are already two factors of differentiation which may influence my results.

Natalie Koutsougera, on her research about the nightlife habits in the Western suburbs of Athens (2013) introduces one more factor on differentiation: gender. In her research, the women dance seductively and the men aggressively. There is also a tendency for people to reenact the lyrics while dancing, in a playful way.

All of the previously mentioned elements may or may not appear on my experiment results. So let’s see what will happen.

Integrated assignment Reference List


Bolles, A. L. (2015). Katherine Dunham's First Journey in Anthropology. Katherine Dunham: Recovering an Anthropological Legacy Choreographing Ethnographic Futures, ed. Elizabeth Chin (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2014), 31-49.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: A social critique of the judgement of taste. Harvard university press.

Hanna, J.L. (2002). “Reading a universal language?” DCA (Dance Critics Association) News, Spring, pp. 6, 15. 

Koutsougera, N. (2013). Night "popular" entertainment and youth culture : an anthropological perspective. Retrieved from the National Documentation centre http://www.ekt.gr/

Royce, A. P. (1977). The anthropology of dance (pp. 7-8). Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Intervention 1.


Dear friends,

I want to invite you to participate in a research, as part of the COMMA choreography masters.

I am asking you to dance to a list of seven songs that I’ve prepared for you, record it and send it to me. I am also asking you to comment on what has happened, if you feel like it.

I am asking you to dance to a list of seven songs that I’ve prepared for you. I would like you to dance very instinctively, to give yourself to the music as unselfconsciously as you can. I want to find out what this music sounds like to your body.

You don’t have to listen to the entire song; change it when you feel like it’s been too long.

The list is here.


Videos of participants

The how and my personal reflection on the process

I chose to conduct this experiment by asking people to record themselves on video while dancing to a playlist seven songs I have chosen for them. Video is the only choice of collaborating with people dancing remotely and asynchronously. But, in any case, video has been very important for anthropologists to record dance (and not only) since the invention of the medium (Royce, 1977).

First, I sent the invitation to friends and asked them to send it to their friends and acquaintances. (The text on your left)

I have chosen seven popular laiko songs from the 70’s-80’s of different sub-genres and influences. Arabic, Latin American, Indian, folk Greek etc.

The opposing categories that I recognized at first were Greeks vs non-Greeks, dancers vs non-dancers. These were the criteria by which I would examine the results, by means of comparison (Royce, 1977).

The ending result was ten videos. I expected many more but realized that the most important factor for people actually deciding to do this assignment was their proximity to me (and, consequently, the possibility of me pressuring them to do it). This fact of proximity, though, also changed the way I could interpret the resulting videos. I also realized that the categories I had in mind weren’t so black and white as I’d think; there existed grey areas such as a person from Turkey, not Greek but very close culturally and a person who isn’t a professional dancer but he’s tap dancing and acting. So, this influenced my arrangement/classification of the results. I also chose to participate in this research with my own video, influenced by Katherine Dunham’s participating in the dances of the people she observed (as an anthropologist and a dancer simultaneously) (Bolles, 2015). One of the participants is also my father, who grew up with these songs, knows and practices their respectively associated dances.

One video is of myself. Seven out of ten participants are Greeks. Four out of ten participants are professionally involved with dance. Three out of ten participants are men. Seven out of ten participants danced to all songs, the rest didn’t because of either a misunderstanding or a technological malfunction.

I then made a collective video, setting every video on the same musical moment in a grid. The non-dancers are placed on top. The non- Greeks are placed on the right side. The “guest appearances” (people who performed just one song) are placed in the middle. I made it this way to make it easier for one to notice different sub-categories’ behaviours.

The factors that proved important after the video results.

  1. The prior knowledge or not of the songs
  2. The understanding of the lyrics
  3. The cultural proximity to the songs emotion
  4. The combination of musical patterns to dance patterns
  5. The gender
  6. The enjoyment of the act

Some of the factors, such as a., b. and c. were expected from me beforehand, but it is interesting to note here that the differences I observed weren’t as intense as I thought they would be. The proximity to the song’s emotion, for example, was mostly universal; whether one understood the lyrics or not, painful love songs were recognized, for example, and danced accordingly. D. was more common in dancers, but still mostly there. The gender factor was kind of a surprise. In some of the songs (but also in some feedback loops, which will be mentioned later), it is very apparent that two of the three have certain common traits (inflexibility of the upper body, open arms) while women have more expressive hands and hip and spine flexibility. Maybe my surprise is coming from usually watching male dancers or actors improvise, whose movement is more liberated from manly stereotypes, but this observation proved interesting to me, especially the fact that this difference appeared more pronounced than the previous classifications (Greeks vs non-Greeks, dancers vs non-dancers) I had thought of. Lastly, the enjoyment of the act, or more lack of it, was apparent in one case and that influenced the intensity of the movement but not its rhythm.

First song trends:

a)      Lifting the arms towards the sky

b)      Spine and hip curved movement


Second song trends

a)      Steps to the music

b)      Hip swinging


Third song trends

a)      Stepping in place/ lifting the knees


Fourth song trends

a)      Arms touching the body and then opening up

b)      Representational drama in the movement and the facial expression

c)       Fast rhythmical steps


Fifth song trends

a)      To the left, to the right

b)      Elbows and curved fingers

c)       Representational drama in the movement and the facial expression


Sixth song trends

a)      Towards traditional dancing

b)      Hip movement

c)       To the left, to the right

Seventh song trends

a)      Zeimbekiko

b)      Intense stepping/ lifting knees



Then, I made a feedback loop, which had two steps. For the ones who participated in the experiment 1. A free interview on one’s experience in their participation 2. Watching the collective video together and commenting on what one sees. For the ones who didn’t participate in the experiment 1. Watching the collective video together and commenting on what one sees 2. Watching the three solo video interventions and commenting on them. 3. Feedforward.

Then, I went on to the next Three solo vido interventions.


The collective video

The feedback

Interventions 2,3,4

And as I watched everyone dancing to my let’s hope successful tune-selecting, I wondered:

How can image turn into embodied understanding?

And I chose to understand it through my own body.

It’s quite interesting to note here that, if one tells me get in the studio and start creating movement, I freeze. Overthinking, they say. Why is this better than that, and so on.

And so, I choose to steal.

I observe people. On the road, in public transport, in bars, in a folk dance circle. Then, I try their movements on my own body. If they trigger me, I’ll bring them back to the studio.

If someone else did it, it must be right. Right?

But that’s not fully it.

I feel, deep inside, that these movements have a purpose.

So, moving on to this case.

Am I going to embody the trends, the unexpected ones or what caught my eye?

But, as ethnographers and anthropologists start learning the dances of their subjects to understand them in an embodied way (Royce, 1977)

I will dance what is unknown to me.

And ended up with these three categories:


Dancing Tsifteteli like a man

Dancing Romantic drama like a non-Greek

Dancing Zeimbekiko like it’s contemporary improvisation


Intervention 2

Dancing Tsifteteli like a man 

Considering the gender element which appeared from the first intervention, I chose to apply the movement of the men who were dancing in a more traditionally "manly" way (inflexibility of the upper body, open arms) on my own body, on the song where is appeared the most (glyke mou turane, danced as tsifteteli)

Intervention 3

Dancing Romantic drama like a non-Greek

Going on to the ethnicity/ cultural element, I chose to apply the movement of my non- Greek participants (which was interestingly similar for all three of them) on the song where the difference was more pronounced (nychta stasou, coincides with no specific dance)

Intervention 4

Dancing Zeimbekiko like it’s contemporary improvisation

Inspired by one of my participants who was more daring in his movement material, while knowing both the songs and their asociated dances, I decided to improvise out-of-style on a very popular song (Rosa, danced as zeimbekiko)

Feedback part 2

Final reflection

I will start this final reflection with what didn’t work.

The drawbacks or failures of this process.

For starters, as said before, the amount of people submitting videos wasn’t nearly enough to make sound assumptions.

From the non- Greeks, two were dancers so their rhythmical understanding was heightened and the other one is from Turkey, with a similar cultural background. I can assume that if the non-Greeks were more or different, there would be a more pronounced difficulties in approaching some rhythms. So, for now, my initial hypothesis kind of failed.

My father’s performances, the closest to the original dances were too short to be actively compared to the others.

Concerning the interventions 2, 3, 4, the movement in intervention 2 and 3 was very forced on my body. In intervention 2 that was totally the intention but in intervention 3 it just looked awkward.

Intervention 4 was a failed attempt to dance something that didn’t look like zeimbekiko on a zeimbekiko rhythm. The rhythm seems to engulf everything. But this seems like important information (more information on this exists on the last feedback loop pdf).

What seemed to work.

The experiment seemed like a fun time for most people

The trends which appeared point to me towards a universality of rhythm and mood of the music interpretation with movement material, directions etc. This is a direction I may want to research further on.

In intervention 4, even though the initial plan didn’t go well at all, it opened some new possibilities. If “whatever is danced on zeimbekiko becomes zeimbekiko, as long as you follow the rhythm”, then the rhythm becomes an amazing generator, in which you can put all of the varied movement material you want and end up with a new dance, that is still the old dance. This is a direction I absolutely want to research further on and also try to apply it to different rhythms connected to dances.

The methods (video, comparing, imitating) seem to have been mostly successful. The imitation didn’t seem purely successful, but it is promising.

The feedback loops were very successful because they helped the process advance by their insightful comments (even though not always in a conscious way)

Comparing my work to another Artist Researcher

The first person coming to mind while talking about the use of anthropological methods in dance (being both a dancer and an anthropologist) is Katherine Brown. Her piece L’ Ag’Ya, for example is based on a fighting dance from Martinique of the same name. This dance combines pure dance with fighting (its closest western equivalent is kick-boxing). She used this fighting dance as the climax of her own ballet and the result, after teaching the dancers properly, was for the audience to react as if they would to an actual fight. A video of this scene can be watched here: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200003836?

My research is way behind hers to be compared with it. Dancing someone else’s dance and participating in the action are the practices in common I perceive. I am wondering if I would use a dance as- is in one of my pieces.