Dr. Maria Hnaraki, associate professor in the Department of Culture and Communication, believes dancing is the ultimate creative act. It was a huge part of her life growing up on the Greek island of Crete. It’s only natural, then, that she’d be drawn to the book Zorba the Greek, which shows the importance of dancing in Greek culture and how Greeks talk through their bodies by examining the character Zorba. First published in 1946, the book was written by Cretan-born author Nikos Kazantzakis, and was adapted into a successful film in 1964 as well as a musical in 1968. The story’s narrator is a young Greek intellectual who meets the free-spirited Alexis Zorba, an older man whose zest for life inspires the narrator to live his own life more fully.
Why did you choose this book?
I used it in my classes that took place both at Drexel’s main campus but also during the Crete-Greece study abroad program. My students worked on several projects, such as comparing the novel with the film and/or discussing how both formats related to their actual Greek experiences. It is essential for them to see how Greeks subconsciously and creatively use dance as a form of therapy to liberate themselves by healing their egos.
You mention that the book shows the importance of dancing in Greek culture—can you tell us more about that?
In Greece, the embodied soul can find its release through movement. Zorba is the authentic, almost forgotten Greek self, the man who may drink, curse and sleep with women of loose morals but who has an enviable quality that the educated narrator lacks: he is in tune with himself. The metaphor is one that would have appealed to Plato, for it is through the means of music and dance, a language of the body as well as the mind, that Zorba achieves a secure sense of his place in the universe.
Has this book lived up to your expectations?
One’s physical state often affects one’s psychological state and vice-versa. The novel suggests what my whole experience growing up on the island of Crete in Greece also endorses: Greek music and dance provide particularly effective forms of music therapy. Improvised poetry set to music promotes creativity and identity formation; the circle dancing encourages a sense of community, yet the circle’s opportunities for individual dancing stimulate self-expression. All of these in turn enhance emotional self-regulation and overall emotional stability. In that context, Greek music and dance can lead to enhanced mental health.
Is there a quote or passage you find particularly interesting?
“Boss, I have never loved a man as much as you. I have hundreds of things to say, but my tongue just can’t manage them… So, I will dance them for you.”
It is when feelings well up to the point where words can no longer suffice that Zorba begins dancing. For Zorba, or for any Greek, dance is the ultimate creative act and follows its own natural laws.