Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Some Thoughts on Misirlou

I'm guessing, like me, you may have learned Misirlou as a Greek dance in your elementary school P.E. class. Well, it turns out that Misirlou is not really an authentic Greek dance. In fact, it was choreographed in 1945 by a teacher at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, using steps from Sirtos Haniotikos; it was first performed at a program to honor America's allies of World War II.

The exact origin of the song is not clear, but the earliest known recording was by the Greek rebetiko musician Tetos Demetriades, who named the song Misirlou in 1928. The name means "Egyptian" in Turkish. The melody has been so popular that it has been recorded in many languages (including Yiddish, Armenian, and Arabic) and performed by musicians including the Beach Boys, Connie Francis, and surf musician Dick Dale (who was Lebanese-American). The dance also became wildly popular in both the Greek and Serbian communities in the U.S., as well as with U.S. folk dance enthusiasts. Here's a video of the dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8Ka1yu_bX4

I have traveled to Greece twice now to study dance and can tell you that no real Greek dancer would be seen dancing Misirlou, though you might find it in a tourist taverna in Athens. Which doesn't mean it's a terrible dance; it is in fact a lovely little dance to great music with fun variations, and it is very much within a broader folk dance tradition of choreographed dances based on traditional stylings and steps that have been introduced by popular folk dance teachers. 

There are many dances in the folk dance repertoire that come from ethnic communities in the United States. One of these is the Armenian Misirlou. There are several versions; this one  is a direct variation of the Greek-American version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k86WVtQKsaA

I have been teaching a different version from the Armenian community in Racine, Wisconsin that I really like. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIfPEhWZUzg
This fun Armenian Misirlou will one of several dances I will be teaching at the annual Festival of the Oaks at Live Oak Park Community Center, 1301 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley on Sunday, February 8, 9:30 a.m.- 5 p.m.