Cretan community’s love of dance

Greek Summerfest will be returning to Vancouver for the 32nd consecutive year from July 5–15. With many different Greek societies and associations in the Metro Vancouver area, including the Cretan Association of B.C., the festival has grown from one weekend in 1987 to an event that spans 11 days and is attended by over 40,000 people from all over the Lower Mainland.

The Cretan Association of B.C., established in 1967, currently has over 200 paid members. They are dedicated to supporting a vibrant community here in Canada with other Cretans around the world. Crete is the largest of the Greek Islands and forms a significant part of their economy, with its own unique culture, food, music, dance and history. Niko Papoutsakis, former president whose family has been involved with the Association since its inception, remembers fondly the time they rented out entire motels in Penticton for one of their weekend retreats.

The Vancouver Cretan Minotavri dance group | Photo by courtesy of the Cretan Association of B.C.

“We ate, danced and partied – young and old together – all weekend long, passing on our culture and heritage to the youth,” says Papoutsakis.

Calling all youths

With the constantly changing world, Papoutsakis says it is important to him to get the youth involved with their culture. He wants all people from Crete who live in Metro Vancouver to attend these events, be they lectures picnics or dances, but especially the youth.

“My hope is that the younger generations will take an active role with the Association and will continue our traditions with their children and their children’s children. I want the Association to continue to thrive and have members who are genuinely interested in promoting Cretan history and culture in Vancouver,” Papoutsakis continues.

One of the ways the Association tries to keep the young people involved is via dance groups: Agrimakia for ages 3 to 12 and Minotavri for ages 13 to 30. The names have very specific meanings.

Agrimakia are mountain goats that are indigenous to the island of Crete. They are wild and jump around just like the young dancers. Minotavri are named after the mythical creature in Greek mythology, the Minotaur. He lived on the island of Crete and was part man and part bull,” Papoutsakis explains.

Cretan beat

Both groups will be performing at the Greek Summer Festival on Friday, July 13, 2018. The Cretan dances are famous throughout Greece, and Cretan dances are echoes of the dances of the Curetes, or daemons from Cretan mythology. Papoutsakis says traditional Cretan dances are danced by men and women, who all wear Cretan costumes in formal events. They are either fast or slow, but always vivid and imposing.

Cretan dance group in Seattle in 2005 | Photo by courtesy of the Cretan Association of B.C.

“We hope spectators can see the pride that our youth feel for their heritage, their Cretan roots as well as the bond that is created within these kids through music, dance and culture. The pride that these kids feel about their heritage is truly admirable and they are not shy to express it,” Papoutsakis says.

With his lifelong involvement with the association and being on the board since the 90s, Papoutsakis has seen plenty of changes but he cannot help but be surprised at the enthusiasm from the youth.

“No matter the years that go by, the youth of Cretan and Greek descent are still extremely tied to their roots. They are proud of being Greek and this shows in their involvement in youth groups, camps as well as the multiple dance groups that are in existence within the Lower Mainland. The Cretan Association dance groups are some of the most prominent and we currently have approximately 40 kids in our dance groups ranging from five years old to adults,” he says.

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