My big fat Greek dance

Irene Manousiouthakis ’10 has a difficult last name.

She said that every teacher throughout her entire academic career has taken roll and choked over that unusually polysyllabic cognomen.

“Every time it’s a new year and I have a new teacher, they’re like, ‘are you Greek?’” she said.
“Or, ‘wow, that’s really long.’”

The name is part of what sets her apart, and she’s enthusiastic about her Greek heritage.
Manousiouthakis is the daughter of two Greek immigrants. Part of what appeals to her about her heritage, and part of what has led her to embrace it, is its exclusivity — being Greek feels like a privilege. She is a religious member of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

Manousiouthakis has embraced not only her name and the faith of her culture, but also the dance. She is a member of St. Sophia’s Greek dancing team, and every Sunday from August until February she and the team practice for the Greek Orthodox Folk Dance and Choral Festival in February (Manousiouthakis calls it FDF). As the festival approaches, weekend practices step up to twice a weekend. This year, Manousiouthakis’ team came in fourth place.

“It’s just another way to experience my culture,” Manousiouthakis said.

Greek dancing has become so much a part of Manousiouthakis’ life that she didn’t even remember when she started — she believed it was six years ago. Her mother, Eva, didn’t know either. They had to consult a photograph that had the date written on it: it turns out Manousiouthakis has been dancing for five years.

She started as part of Greek school at her church. Greek school is mostly aimed at learning the language — Manousiouthakis said she can’t speak it, but her parents speak Greek and she can understand it.

At first Greek dancing was more her parents’ idea, but she soon grew to love the camaraderie and the dancing itself. She spoke happily about her favorite dance.

“Pontic is better,” she said, smiling. “It’s really bouncy. Like double bouncy.”

Manousiouthakis plans to continue dancing until she graduates high school, which seems fitting: Greek dancing has been a part of her ascension into adulthood, and the team has grown as she has. Her dance team is now called Kymata, the Greek for waves.

“It used to be Kymatakia, which means little waves,” she said. “Now that we’re bigger, it’s waves.”