Dancers of North evolve as a collaborative effort
She always wanted to be a ballerina – a yearning that was not fully conscious at first. “After all, what child fully realizes their desires and choices at 15?” wonders Tatiana Papadopoulou. Down the line, dance became her second mother tongue and her means of communication. At the time, there were no professional dance schools in Thessaloniki. Things were only just developing – hesitantly, as she recalls. She left for London on scholarship at age 16, and returned in the mid ‘90s, after a few years in Athens.
“For a while, things were on the up. There were frequent festivals and we saw one dance group established after another. But then there was a slump for quite a few years and we now have three established professional dance schools. Of course, talented kids continue to leave for Athens or big European cities because Thessaloniki cannot support a professional dancer.”
In defiance of this reality, Tatiana founded Dancers of North almost three decades ago, whom she envisioned, as she explains, upon her homecoming from London. Throughout these years, her goal remains to contribute to expand the audience of neoclassical ballet and contemporary dance –and her dream “to support new dancers so they don’t have to move away to get by.” The group is holding autumn 2021 auditions to find new dancers from Thessaloniki and nearby cities.
As years went by, the Dancers of North acquired a following. “In a way, we established ourselves, after several years of steady trajectory, effort and persistence.” She does not consider the group to belong to her; instead, she always pushes for collaboration, particularly with young people who embrace the concept. “Their talent and freshness recharge the team. Dancers of North evolve as a collaborative effort.”
However, it is one of very few groups the public is aware of, since – as Tatiana notes – “Greek audiences are not used to watching dance. They prefer theater or live music. And, of course, it’s all down to supply and demand. If there aren’t enough people to fill a theater for a dance recital, groups cannot keep taking on the cost of their own productions forever…”
On the contrary, she explains, dance is considered an excellent activity for children abroad – perhaps better than swimming, soccer or volleyball, because it combines art and exercise. “They are given dance as an option in school, and children have more opportunities to distinguish themselves. The difference is that abroad, talent will be noticed at age 14, and the child will have the opportunity to study from a young age and in great academies. But they also have more opportunities as professionals, because there are a lot of productions. Governments abroad fund dance as an art form. The public follows and supports it more than in our country.”
On the other hand, she considers dance education in Greece to be of a high standard and delivered by excellent professionals. In the big cities, such as Athens, Thessaloniki and Larisa, children have the State School and higher vocational dance schools that are on par with other countries,’ she notes. However, she would personally recommend heading abroad for specialization or postgraduate studies, because, “in Europe, there is more diversity and breadth of choice. There’s no question that it is where you find everything that’s new and have more opportunities linked to the job market.”
Tatiana Papadopoulou’s CV is impressive. She is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Dance, London; she holds a BA in Dance Education and MA in Choreography and Performance; she serves as Artistic Director of the contemporary dance group Dancers of North; owns the State-accredited dance school Arabesque; has taken on the Artistic Direction of Motum Dance Festival; is Performers Manager at TEDx Thessaloniki; is a graduate of the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing; holds a Teaching Certificate (CBTS) and Diploma in Dance Teaching Studies (DDTS) from the Royal Academy of Dance; and is a member of UNESCO’s International Dance Council.
And yet, learning remains an integral part of her life. “Of course our job demands a lot of studying and I continue to keep up to date with developments in the field as well as in dance education. But in addition to traditional learning – such as, for example, postgraduate studies, or researching something I want to produce – another type of learning comes from the observation and analysis required to capture the particular kinesiology of something. I often closely observe how two people talk to each other, or how the branch of a tree moves, or how an animal reacts to something or moves in a specific situation. All of these are sources of inspiration and objects of study.”
She also believes in hard work. “I’ve seen classmates and later colleagues or students of mine who had immense talent but ended up jobless because they did not put in the hard work. On the contrary, I’ve seen people who worked very hard to reach satisfactory, even impressive, standards and had careers that even the most talented would envy,” she explains, adding that combining talent and effort is ideal – and can propel you straight to the top. Her advice to her students? To have the courage to go after their goals and never give up in the face of difficulty. She advocates that “no matter how long it may take us, when we are concentrated on our concrete goal, we will always achieve it in the end.”
Tatiana has drawn a mental line separating life before and after the accident that confined her to her bed for months. “I learned to recognize and appreciate that it’s the little things that matter, that I should not take anything for granted. I learned to compete and fight for the best and enjoy the moment. It also left a bad taste, though, something very traumatic: Whenever I am carefree and happy, I fear that at any moment something might happen that will bring everything crumbling down and leave me with nothing, once again. But I have learned to live with this irrational fear, which I detest.” To her, what matters is happiness, not success – and her more immediate future plans also involve trying to find the time to finish the book she has started writing.