Friday, November 24, 2006

Zorba The Greek? Watching The Belly Dancers


Nowadays North Miami bills itself as a diverse community, but over the last three or four decades the meaning of "diversity" sure has changed! When I first met Father Philemon Payiatis it was still legal to start a city council meeting with a prayer. Various priests, ministers, and rabbis from the city's houses of worship took turns saying the prayer so the meeting could get under way. I met and became friends with several of the local clergy, and did some photography for the various churches.But Father Phil and I became close friends. For many years I photographed the festival.

Still, diversity back then meant Jewish or Christian, everybody spoke English, and everyone was white. When the Greek Orthodox Church had their annual Greek Festival a large cross section of the community turned out for the food and festivities. You didn't have to be Greek to enjoy the food, music, and dancing with your friends and neighbors. Then the "color" of the city shifted as Carribean islanders, mostly Haitian, and various Hispanic groups started moving in. Assorted dialects of Spanish,along with Haitian Kreyole (the way they spell Creole) were heard in the shops, in the schools, on the street, everyplace! Strange looking fruits and vegetables appeared in the market. A lot of whites with school age children moved, mostly to new communities in western Broward County. This depressed housing prices and the new residents got some real bargains!

Eventually the Greek community dwindled to the point where the annual festival stopped being held. Then a couple of years ago they decided to start it up again. Father Phil is a frail old man and semi-retired now, and a new priest runs the church. The younger generation of city residents seems to get along with one another across all kinds of racial, ethnic, and religious lines.

They had a great turn-out at the festival and as usual the food was delicious! A Greek belly dancing demonstration, with girls in traditional costumes, was followed by a "Come on and join us" from the two dancers, one of whom is out of camera range. The two blonde women really gave it their best shot but the black woman, there with her daughter or kid sister, was a natural. Within minutes she had the steps, the hand movements, and the pelvic rotation absolutely perfect. When the music speeded up and the sensuous rotation turned into rapid vibration of the hips and the thighs the two blondes gave up but the black woman kept up with the Greeks no problem! She got a lot of frenzied applause which was well deserved.

Then I bought some coffee and picked out some scrumptious Greek pastries dripping with honey. A lot of people there knew me from years ago. We sat and chatted, catching up on what our kids were doing. But I kept looking at all these middle aged women, mostly a bit overweight too, and wondered which of them I'd photographed twenty five years before wearing sexy costumes as they demonstrated their belly dancing skills.

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