Twenty young Australians of Cretan origin returned from their tour of Greece full of enthusiasm and unforgettable memories of Greece. It was the first time that third generation Cretans from Australia and New Zealand came together to form the first national dance group under the Cretan Federation of Australia and New Zealand. Dance teacher Paul Spanoudakis coordinated everyone for several months. They then met their peers in Crete and proved that traditions and customs held firm in the diaspora. For many it was the first visit to their roots. But it won’t be the last, judging by their enthusiasm to share their experiences with Neo Cosmos.
A favorite memory of most attendees was attending the kantada (serenade) in Rethymnon. This unique cultural experience saw them walking and dancing through the streets of Rethymno to traditional music played by Cretan musicians Sifis Tsourdalakis, Babis Voulgarakis and Manolis Kydonakis. The event was organized by the cultural association of Rethymnon “Tzanidakis” which, true to the spirit of Cretan hospitality, offered raki and sweets to passers-by before joining the Greek-Australian group to dance a Pentozali.
“I felt privileged to dance with all of them as if we were one group. It was a surreal feeling and a memory that I will keep forever,” said Marina Stavrinidis (19) and her brother Christos Stavrinidis (21).
Alexandros Mountakis (19), who played laouto, said: “Being able to watch my classmates dance and smile while I play really warmed my heart. It made me very proud to play and encouraged me to improve myself and develop my passion for my culture.
“I loved seeing old traditions being celebrated in today’s world,” said Dylan Giannouls (16), and Ana Tsourdalkasi (19), whose Papuan is from Rethymno, said it really felt like home.
“The dancing, the shots of raki, walking the streets of Rethymno with musicians accompanying us and singing mantinades to us seemed surreal.”
“I made so many close friendships with so many new people in the different dance groups we had the chance to meet all over Crete: Viglatores in Chania, Tzanidakis in Rethymnon and the Vrakofori also in Rethymnon… These friendships will last forever.
“I have to say, however, my favorite part of this trip was traveling with my wonderful friends from Queensland and Sydney. I feel so happy to know that this trip brought us together; I never thought I would become so close to people in such a short time,” Ana said.
For Alexia Georgas (20), playing in Crete was an “unforgettable experience” after studying and completing her childhood in Australia.
“The trip allowed me to immerse myself in the rich Greek culture and history by participating in various events. Among them, the Rethymno Kantada was the highlight, where we dressed up in costumes, sang mantinades and danced freely, witnessing the joy our music brought to the city. It is a memory that I will cherish forever.
Make lasting friendships
“I connected with the homeland, bonded with friends and made new ones. I had the honor and privilege to perform in Crete in the presence of my Cretan grandparents, who cried with joy after each performance,” said Mathew Tsakos (14), adding that he felt incredibly proud to publicly acknowledge the legacy of his Cretan grandparents in a speech.
Vayia Spanoudakis (22) said she enjoyed the adventure with other young Cretans from Melbourne and Brisbane. “It was amazing, and dancing alongside Viglatores Hania, Omilos Vrakoforon and the Tzanidakis dance groups gave them another perspective on Cretan dance. “Dancing as Australia’s first ever Cretan dance group across Crete was amazing; how we formed such an awesome dance group, having our families watching was a highlight.
The Crete tour included a visit to Arkadi Monastery, another incredible experience for third generation Greek Australians. Vayia said that after this trip, celebrating Arkadi every year would now mean much more to her since she was where everything happened at the monastery.
“I never understood the whole story or why we celebrated Arkadi here in Australia; now that I do, I have so much respect for those Cretans who sacrificed themselves rather than surrender in this difficult time,” Patrissia Arvanitagis (21) said of the day.
While the group was in Athens, they had the honor of meeting the President of the Hellenic Republic, Katerina Sakelaropoulou, at the Presidential House, where they also received a guided tour. It was another highlight for Vayia: meeting Katerina Sakellaropoulou and Major General Floros, Commander of the Hellenic Greek Forces, boarding ships, submarines and planes and experiencing combat training. “Every day there was a highlight. I was able to experience Crete in a very different way with our new friends in Crete. But above all, I did it with my Australian friends, who I now call my family.
It was the first time in Greece for Angélique Belivanis (19), which makes this trip even more memorable. “The highlight of the trip for me was being at the Hellenic Air Force in Athens (Greek Top Gun) and the last night the Australian Dancing Group performed in Sitia, Crete. The tour was a success, everyone got closer and closer.
For his brother Stamatis Belivanis (21), the visit to the Hellenic National Defense headquarters and ministry was an “eye-opening experience” as he got to see first-hand where the country’s special forces units were training .
Antonios Arvanitagis (18) also enjoyed visiting the Greek military, including the navy, submarines and ships. “Visiting the air force and having the opportunity to better understand the jet aircraft they use for all pilots of different experience and also to sit in one of them.”
The Presidential Palace and Athens Historic Sites Tour is unlike anything Chris Townsend (19) has experienced. See “The Amazing History of Greece and the Creation of the Costumes of the Evzones. Seeing the depth of symbolism in each part was fascinating. The dedication to country and tradition is unlike anything I have ever experienced. To see this in person was an honor and a gift.
In addition to dancing and sightseeing, they had the opportunity to spend days with friends from Crete, including the dance group Viglatores, with whom they went to the beach at Hora in Sfakia for the day, creating bonding over a swim in the cold water and having lunch together as well as a long bus ride to play music and enjoy each other’s company.
“It was a memorable tour that will never be forgotten. I really enjoyed all the parea on tour and being part of Australia’s first national Cretan dance group,” adds Antonios.
Irene Vitetzakis (16) stands out with her last performance in Sitia. “The ties and bonds that bind the Australian band together were demonstrated during this dance, and our passion shone through. I will never forget the moment when we finished playing and we all came together to reflect on our accomplishments over the past two weeks. I will forever cherish that night, the rest of the tour, and the memories we all made together.
The program would only be complete with the beauty of the crystal clear sea, which was a highlight for Parisa Tsourdalakis (12). She explored historical sites, participated in the Cretan panagiria, made new friends and danced at events in Crete.
It was “the most adventurous, extraordinary and by far the most enjoyable travel experience of my life,” Manolis Adamakis (14) said of the Cretan tour. “My friendships from different parts of Australia are still linked, which lights up my face and my soul.” His advice? “If you want to see everything I said and that you were offered to participate in this tour, accept it! You may never have such luck again.
For those wishing to register for the Tour of Greece for 2024, contact the Cretan Federation. According to chairman Antonis Tsourdalakis, next year’s tour will be open to all Greek Australians, not just those of Cretan descent. For more information, contact the Federation by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Cretan Youth trip to Greece, organized by the Cretan Federation of Australia and New Zealand, was part of a hospitality program of the General Secretariat for Greeks Abroad and Public Diplomacy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs foreign.