Interview with BLE member and dance enthusiast Tom Pantages

In late October, the Boston Lykeion Ellinidon received a generous donation from long-time supporter Tom Pantages – a collection of clippings, articles, and notes from years spent researching and participating in folk dance. We spoke with Tom recently to learn more about his Greek roots, how he feels about “KZ bands,” and more.

Tell me a little about where you’re from, and your Greek roots.
I was raised in Marlborough, MA. Both of my parents were born in Greece, and came over separately when they were very young. They met at a picnic of the Pentalofos Society, a society of the Greek-Americans who came to the States from the village of Pentalofos, Kozani in western Macedonia. I only once went back to the village, but do hope to go back again. I’m now starting a project to further research the Pentalofos Society – I recently obtained a ledger going back to 1918.

When and how did you become interested in Greek dancing?
I didn’t dance as a child; I started as an adult. I was living in Concord, NH, and a girlfriend introduced me to an international folk dance class. I went and the rest is history – we met every week, and danced from 7-10 with no breaks. We had an outstanding teacher, and I was a motivated student. It wasn’t just Greek dances, but all of the Balkan dances, even extending into Russia and the Middle East. There was a core group of very nice people. Dancing led me to other Greek activities. If I hadn’t learned to dance under such a good instructor, I’d just be going on my own merry way, but learning how to Greek dance – and not only! – changed my whole leisure life, all for the better.

Tell me more about your dance files. What resources were you able to find for learning more about Greek dancing?
I collected the files as a result of participating in the international folk dance classes in Concord. The Concord Library had a few books, and I would make copies. I’m obsessive with things, and get carried away. I consider myself a researcher – if I get interested in something, I pursue it and one thing leads to another.

I know that you are very well informed about all forms of traditional music and dance in the greater Boston area. What other types of dance have you participated in?
I have also participated in events with what I call the “Greek cousins,” Armenians. I enjoy attending Armenian church picnics with live bands that play not just Armenian but also Greek, Turkish, and Arabic music, as well as the dances that they host throughout the year.

What are some of your favorite Greek dances?
Well, they’re at the opposite extremes in terms of energy. I was recently at a dance at Worcester with [BLE President] Irene Savas and a few others, and we did the zonaradikos. Because it’s so rarely played, I feel like I only get to do it once every five years. It’s the same as the Bulgarian fast pravo, so it’s an example of a dance crossing borders. I also like the tik, which is the same as the Armenian laz bar. Another favorite genre is Epirotic (Ipirotika). Dancing Ipirotika is hypnotic. So, going from the very fast to the very slow.

I can’t say I have a soft spot for the ikariotikos, because I broke my hip while trying to learn it, but I like it more than average. I don’t care for the zeimbekikos at all. I prefer percussion, repetition, motion, regularity. Too many Greek bands are what I call KZ bands – all they play is kalamatianos and zeimbekikos, and it gets kind of boring!

Do you have any words of wisdom for someone looking to get started in dance?
Personally, I need to learn a dance from all aspects. My teacher in Concord, Lisa, shared the term “kinesthetic memory,” the “memory of motion.” [Kinesthetic memory is the recollection of movement, weight, resistance, and position of the body or parts of the body.] I’m kind of weak on kinesthetic memory; I don’t remember my motions that well. I’m a numbers guy. For me, personally, I needed a good teacher – if she could teach me, she could teach anybody.

I was a slow learner and reluctant to go to the dances at the Greek festivals; I didn’t know how to dance, and was kind of clueless about trying to learn by watching. But I had a friend whose son had Down’s Syndrome, and would join in the dances. Although he couldn’t do the steps that well, he knew how to go with the flow. If the line went forward, he went forward; if the line went backward, he went backward. Now contrast that with other beginners, who end up pulling and pushing the dancers around them.

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