Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Dance and the Body Politic in Northern Greece

Dance and the Body Politic in Northern Greece

Copyright Date: 1990
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dance and the Body Politic in Northern Greece
    Book Description:

    Valued for their sensual and social intensity, Greek dance-events are often also problematical for participants, giving rise to struggles over position, prestige, and reputation. Here Jane Cowan explores how the politics of gender is articulated through the body at these culturally central, yet until now ethnographically neglected, celebrations in a class-divided northern Greek town. Portraying the dance-event as both a highly structured and dynamic social arena, she approaches the human body not only as a sign to be deciphered but as a site of experience and an agent of practice.

    In describing the multiple ideologies of person, gender, and community that townspeople embody and explore as they dance, Cowan presents three different settings: the traditional wedding procession, the "Europeanized" formal evening dance of local civic associations, and the private party. She examines the practices of eating, drinking, talking, gifting, and dancing, and the verbal discourse through which celebrants make sense of each other's actions. Paying particular attention to points of tension and moments of misunderstanding, she analyzes in what ways these social situations pose different problems for men and women.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-8437-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Law, Environmental Studies, Art & Art History, African American Studies, American Studies, Biological Sciences, Language & Literature, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. INTRODUCTION Entering the Dance
    (pp. 3-27)

    February 1985. At half past midnight, in a chilly rented hall in a small town in the mountains of Macedonia, the Orpheus Association’s annual dance is coming to a close. Although the musicians continue to play, the middle-aged couples who have dominated the event are gradually leaving for home. My video camera captures two images of a now-disorganized dance space.

    In the background, at the top of the dance floor, a small, wiry youth is dancing a medium-tempo, rather acrobatic zeibekiko. The sleeves on his sweater are pushed up around his elbows with studied carelessness, a cigarette dangles from his...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Place, Distinctions, Identities
    (pp. 28-48)

    The journey from Thessaloniki, Greece’s northern capital, to Sohos begins from one of the cavernous one-room bus depots scattered about the city. The depot for Soh os borders on the ruins of Byzantine ramparts near Vardari. There are few places to sit, and unless it is raining most people stand outside, leaning against the glass window panes, a day’s worth of shopping in plastic bags at their feet, waiting anxiously for their bus to be called. Everyone listens carefully; whoever misses the garbled shout is pushed aside by a stampede of passengers rushing to get to the bus first and...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Gender, Household, and Community
    (pp. 49-63)

    The ideas about gender currently hegemonic in Sohos bear the imprint of local circumstances and histories: the patterns of the sexual division of labor within the peasant-laborer household, the relations between the different social and ethnic groups, and the shared Orthodox religious culture. But they are also affected by extralocal processes. In Sohos as elsewhere, changing notions about men and women, and especially about women’s roles, and the changing material conditions of men and women’s lives need to be seen in the broader national context of growing middle-class aspirations, conservative (until recently) political control, and long-term economic underdevelopment. If the...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Everyday Sociability as Gendered Practice
    (pp. 64-88)

    Because the gendered practices of dance-events both draw upon and transform those of everyday life, it is useful to examine the ways Sohoians learn to be male and female within the practices of everyday sociability. Coffee drinking, for example, is a gendered practice: the different ways and places that male and female Sohoians drink coffee both express and reproduce the gendered ordering of their world. Moreover, as a seemingly trivial pursuit in which gender is symbolically and practically realized (both comprehended and made real) with much pleasure and little ado, coffee drinking exemplifies the hegemonic process that gendering involves in...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Dancing Signs: Deciphering the Body in Wedding Celebrations
    (pp. 89-133)

    If everyday contexts of sociability entail a subtle semiotics of gender, ritual occasions often exhibit one that is more elaborate and stylized. Sohoian weddings provide an excellent locus for exploring how gender identities and relations are collectively celebrated, and not only because of their pomp and publicity. As a key rite of passage through which a man and a woman, each in different ways, acquire full adult status in the community, marriage is largely about gender and sexuality and the ways these are organized for the reproduction of the family, the community, and the state. Scholars working in Greece have...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Orchestration of Association in Formal Evening Dances
    (pp. 134-170)

    Sohoians’ attachment to their traditions is not unambivalent. Elaborate, densely symbolic, and redolent with memories of family and place, the wedding celebrations also hold for some the taint of backwardness. I recall the caustic tone with which one bride’s aunt, ruefully eyeing the exquisite trousseau hung on the walls that I was admiring and photographing, inquired: “Do you have such stupid customs in America?” And one soon-to-be married bride insisted that, were it not for the ridicule her parents risked if they failed to marry her off properly in the Sohoian way, she would marry “without daulia and all that...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Male Prestige and the Eruption of Conflict
    (pp. 171-187)

    Although it is meant to appear spontaneous and natural, the buoyant conviviality of horoesperidhes is a tenuous achievement.¹ Organizers attempt to orchestrate association, and thereby legitimize a particular social order, by reformulating the ground rules and prescribing an etiquette and normative set of practices. But without the celebrants’ cooperation, they cannot be successful. Getting women to accept this etiquette and set of practices is relatively easy. The mechanisms of gossip that penalize female nonconformity, the valorization of the wifely role, and the very enjoyment a woman may feel in going out all combine to inhibit women, married or unmarried, from...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Ambivalent Pleasures: Dance as a Problem for Women
    (pp. 188-205)

    The Sohoian female celebrant’s attitudes toward dancing, and her experiences of it, are shaped by the socially constructed meanings of female selves and bodies, and by her practical position(s) as a female person within the specific social relations of her everyday life. Given the patriarchal character of the world she inhabits, the female celebrant encounters the dance as a pleasure but also as a problem. Dancing is for her an often ambivalent experience, as it is for her male counterparts. But because the patriarchally ordered relations impinge differently upon male and female members of this community, it is ambivalent in...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT Aphrodite’s Tables: Breakdown, Blame, and Female Sexuality
    (pp. 206-224)

    A party I attended hosted by Aphrodite, a young woman from Thessaloniki employed as a social worker in Sohos, was not a dance-event on the scale of those already discussed, and it was almost certainly not thought of by those attending as a dance-event (horos) per se. Yet this smaller and more intimate gathering, held in Aphrodite’s apartment and involving only a small group of people, was not structurally dissimilar to other local festive gatherings I attended: celebrations hosted by young married couples on the husband’s name day, for example, often included dancing.

    The event’s intimate character and its more...

  14. CHAPTER NINE Because of the Dance
    (pp. 225-234)

    I have been concerned in this book to explore how gender and sexuality are socially constructed, particularly in the dance. I have looked at the ways they are physically constructed—the ways they are embodied—individually and collectively, in the conventionalized poses, postures, and gestures Sohoians assume when they are celebrating: at the table, on the dance floor, in the streets. I have considered how they are verbally constructed in the talk within and about dance-events, both spontaneous talk and that elicited by myself as ethnographer, exploring what Sohoian women and men, girls and boys, say about dancing and noting...

    (pp. 235-244)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 245-252)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 253-254)