Laura's Blog

The Greek Crisis: Grandparents on the Table?

Laura Shannon
Folk Dance – Sacred Dance – Circle Dance – Women's Ritual Dances


June 21, 2015


The Greek Crisis: Grandparents on the Table?

So, even the right-wing Daily Telegraph now excoriates the IMF, EMU and other lenders for its irrationally hostile and punitive approach to the current negotiations. In two recent articles, financial columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard articulates eloquently the problems which now threaten to derail Europe, the euro and by extension the world’s financial system. 

Bravo to him for speaking up in this tense moment when much of the mainstream press continues to circulate the unexamined propaganda picture of Greece as naughty teenager. The real problem, as Evans-Pritchard says, is that the IMF is 
‘colluding in an EMU-imposed austerity regime that breaches the Fund’s own rules and is in open contradiction with five years of analysis by its own excellent research department and chief economist, Olivier Blanchard.’

Greeks have tried the IMF’s austerity prescriptionthese past five years, swallowing every bitter pill in the troika’s prescription.  At their insistence Greece has implemented more fiscal consolidation, wage and pension cuts, and tax rate increases, and suffered greater unemployment and loss of GDP, than any other country in peacetime.

Even a child – perhaps especially a child, if we are talking about the hundreds of thousands of hungry Greek children – can see that this method is not working. As the Wall Street Journal has revealed, the IMF’s own members foresaw the utter unfeasibility of the original bailout program from its very beginning.

Evans-Pritchard also says, rightly, that Greek Finance Minister Yianis Varoufakis’ latest proposal for an agreement is thoroughly sound, finding it ‘rational, reasonable, fair, and proportionate’. I invite you to judge for yourself. You can read Varoufakis’ proposal and the text of his contribution to the most recent Eurogroup meeting here.

The mainstream press repeat that the key sticking point is ‘pension reform’, which sounds innocent enough, and gives the impression that Greece is being unreasonably stubborn over an issue of no value. However, what does ‘pension reform’ mean? Pensions have already been cut by 48% overall. The base pension has been reduced to 350 euros, forcing pensioners into a struggle for survival. Already two-thirds of pensioners (and a third of all Greeks) are below or at the poverty line. As other family members have lost jobs, homes, businesses and prospects, often that grandparent’s pension is providing crucial support for several family members.

This picture of the grandparent helping support their children and grandchildren throughout their lives is quite alien to western and northen Europeans, and yet it is firmly at the heart of Greek society. Elders are almost universally cared for within the family; old-age homes are extremely few. Like the sacred hospitality offered to guests and strangers since ancient times, elder care is considered a sacred responsibility, and elders themselves are universally treated with great respect in Greek society. 

In general, members of families and networks of neighbours and friends can be counted on to help one another, even when everyone is struggling desparately; this is how Greeks have managed to survive the terrible effects of the man-made ‘crisis’ up til now. However, if pensioners’ income is reduced further, amid the disastrously rising prices and rates of unemployment, pensioner deaths, suicides, illness and infant mortality, people fear they will be unable to support their parents and grandparents as their duty demands. And such a sacred duty, for Greeks, is non-negotiable.

This respect for elders, therefore, is at the heart of the Greek resistance to further cuts to pensions. For the same reason, Greece does not wish to consider raising VAT on medicines and electricity bills, two further measures on which the lenders continue to insist, and which will of course hit these vulnerable elderly the hardest. Why this insistence by the lenders on such harsh measures which will have the worst impact on society’s weakest members? It would be far better to ask the wealthiest Greeks to contribute a little more in taxes, yet the lenders continue to resist this idea.

In my view, if the lenders force Greece to default on their loans and exit the euro, it will be because of this one point. Europe wants Greece to throw their old folks on the trash heap, but I do not believe that Greeks will ever do that. So, the grandparents are now precariously on the table, instead of safely at the table, where they belong, to be helped and fed and cared for throughout their lives.

Alexis Tsipras, the young leader of the Syriza government elected early this year on an anti-austerity platform, has said that if the new proposal is rejected, he will call a referendum (which undoubtedly should have been done before) and let the Greek people decide. This is how democracy works.  His goverment does not have a mandate to tighten the screws of austerity further on innocent Greeks. If the IMF and EMU act to prevent this referendum, as it did with George Papandreou (in what conservative Evans-Pritchard calls a coup by a monetary junta), it must take responsibility for turning the beautiful country which was once democracy’s cradle into its grave.

Laura Shannon



Spring Equinox: Balance and New Beginnings

March 20, 2015

Dear Dancing Sisters!                    

Today is the Spring Equinox, the New Moon and a partial Solar Eclipse. This rare configuration of events will not happen again for over two hundred years.

I invite you to welcome and celebrate the sacred themes of Balance and New Beginnings on this auspicious day, themes which traditional dances can always help us invoke and integrate.

As you are friends of Greek dance, now is a particularly good time to send positive thoughts to our beloved Greece, and I have two suggestions for practical ways we can do that.

Firstly, I invite you to show your support in the Greek humanitarian crisis by signing this Avaaz petition.
It asks for for medical care to be exempted from the drastic cuts to social services demanded of Greece by its creditors, including the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank.

Mass closures of hospitals and clinics and mass firings of doctors, nurses and essential medical staff have led to a sharp rise in infant mortality rates as well as many illnesses. Since medical care is tied to employment in Greece, the quarter of the adult population which has been thrown out of work now has no access to health care.

'Austerity' has become a matter of life and death here.  This petition is particularly important because it originated in Germany and acknowledges Germany's complicity in the Greek humanitarian crisis through the insistence on brutal austerity measures which have caused untold suffering to the innocent and the poor. 

Your solidarity now means so much. At a time when the banking industry shows not even the pretence of concern for the high human cost of the pursuit of profit – and make no mistake, the Greek 'debt problem' is generating enormous profits for foreign speculators – and governments almost universally support the banks over citizens, it is up to individuals to demonstrate our sense of shared humanity and common destiny.

In this way we can invite balance once again into politics and economics, and help nurture the new hope and new beginning which the new Greek government has dared to initiate.

Second, I invite you to 
celebrate life with Greek dance this year! There are many opportunities which I warmly recommend, including my own workshops of Women's Ritual Dances on Lesvos, June 10-17, 2015, at the Milelja Inselgarten Centre, and in Mani, August 30-September 6, 2015, at the Mani-Sonnenlink Bio-Hotel and Retreat Centre. Both these events are for women only. I also recommend seminars offered by my friends Babis Almpantis (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and Kyriakos Moïsidis (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

Best of all, you can also have an authentic and unique Greek dance experience this summer in the UK, as we have invited 
Dimitris Barbaroussis to be the guest teacher at the Findhorn Festival of Sacred Dance, Music and Song. See sidebar for more information about Dimitris and the Findhorn Festival, now entering its 29th year!

Along with Dimitris, teachers at this year's Festival include: Peter Vallance (Sacred Dance), Susanne Anders Bartholomäi (TanzMeditation), Barbara Swetina (Sacred Song), Bill Henderson (Scratch Orchestra), and other teachers and musicians. I will be sharing Armenian Lyrical Dances and other Armenian, Greek & Balkan ritual dances, with live music from Kostantis Kourmadias. For information on bursaries and special non-residential prices, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As you will know if you have danced with me, traditional

women’s ritual dances are among the oldest circle dances. Simple yet profound, they celebrate the sacredness of the natural world, and help us reconnect with ourselves, each other and the cycles of life.  Coming from cultures which have survived many times of transition, these dances open doors to ancient wisdom and joyfully guide us through our own life changes. Strengthening our own capacity for creative change gives us the courage to show solidarity with those friends who need our support at this time.

On the holy day of the Spring Equinox, I invite you to send your loving prayers for balance and new beginnings  to our brothers and sisters in Greece - and everywhere else in the world where suffering is being deliberately permitted, not to say provoked. We've seen that we can't count on European governments to do the right thing to relieve suffering when profits stand to be made. It is we ordinary people who must show that we care about community, hospitality, and mutual support – the highest traditional values, which have been Greek treasures since ancient times.

For more thoughts along these lines, check out my recent articles, 
All We Are Saying Is Give Greece a Chanceon the Feminism and Religion website, and Values of Community and Sustainability: Surviving Austerity in Greece on my blog Greek Fire.

For information about any of my workshops in Greece, Europe or the UK, please visit my website or email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


I hope to see you in the circle!
With love and blessings in the dance,



The Dance of Memory: Commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide

The Dance of Memory: Commemorating the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide 

April 24, 2015


Friday, April 24, 2015 marks one hundred years since the start of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.


In my dance workshop last Sunday in Somerset, England, we lit candles to the exquisite voice of the great Armenian soprano Lusine Zakarian, and danced beautiful Armenian dances in a ritual of solidarity with this occasion.


I have been encouraging all my students to dance Armenian dances with their groups this week, most especially on Friday, to align with the commemorations happening around the world. Even if you do not dance, you could simply light a candle and listen to some Armenian music (see my list of recommendations at the end of this post). I feel that every act of compassionate witnessing, however small, helps heal the wounds of history.


Why Armenian dances? I am not Armenian, yet in my thirty years of researching and teaching traditional dances, Armenian dances have held a particular fascination for me, in their poignant melodies and timeless gestures expressing love, longing and homecoming.


Armenian Christianity has also been a tremendous source of inspiration. The Armenian khachkar (‘stone cross’) is magnificently life-affirming, in that the cross, rather than an instrument of suffering, is the Tree of Life, revealing the living wisdom of Christ’s teachings. Since antiquity, the Tree of Life has also represented the Goddess, originally worshipped in Armenia as Anahit, Saris, Nar, and Nune.


Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity, in 301 CE. Perhaps because it developed so early, the Armenian Orthodox church retains features of its nature-reverent origins. A solar symbol appears on every khachkar, embedded in the roots of the Tree to show union and balance, rather than separation, between earth and sky, spirit and matter. These are also the key principles of Armenian traditional dance, which I have been exploring in movement for thirty years...


Read the rest of this article on





The Dance of Memory, Part 2: The Wishing Tree

The Dance of Memory, Part 2: The Wishing Tree

May 2, 2015


Now is the time of Beltane, the great festival celebrating life and fertility.


Last week, on April 24th, in my post The Dance of Memory I wrote about the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, and invited everyone to join in this worldwide day of remembrance through prayer, meditation, music and dance. Subsequently I received testimony from students and colleagues all over the world about dance events they had organised in response to my call.


Dancing friends from Europe, North America, South America, and Australia told how moved they felt to be part of a larger whole, connected through the wordless beauty of music and dance, and by our compassion and caring for all those affected by genocide. Many, including my sister Leslie, thanked me for my ‘call to include Turkish and other dances in the Armenian commemoration activities’. She wrote from New Zealand, ‘The world needs more of this kind of inclusiveness!’

In Germany, Sybille Kolaric danced Armenian dances and a Turkish dance with her group, saying, “I really liked the idea to combine in the dance circle what is so separated in reality.”


A beautiful coming together of Turks and Armenians took place in Istanbul, where my dear friend and colleague Shakeh Major Tchilingirian went with her family, along with many Armenians from all over the world, for the April 24th commemorative ceremonies. A few days before, Shakeh had been leading Armenian dances with Turkish university students there as a ritual of reconciliation (you can see the film, Circle of Life, about a similar event she led in London). Shakeh wrote that they attended a very emotional service in the Armenian Church, and then went to Taksim Square to tie cloths to the Wishing Tree.


Shakeh wrote from Istanbul, “Last night I read some of the messages on The Wishing Tree, messages remembering ALL victims of atrocities and genocide as well as the displaced. There were thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of people sitting silently in Taksim Square, many Turks and Kurds amongst us. There is a lesson to be learned here: we are all victims of the situation we find ourselves in and the longer these wounds bleed the more difficult it becomes to heal.”


The Wishing Tree in Taksim Square was created by Turkish artist Hale Tenger, specifically to mark the centennial of the Genocide. She invited participants to tie pieces of cloth to its branches in homage to the victims and survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Armenian-American Nancy Kricorian brought with her from New York a strip of fabric from one of her grandmother’s aprons, saying, “My grandmother Mariam Kodjababian Kricorian was a survivor of the 1915 Genocide, and tying this cloth to the Wishing Tree in Istanbul will be a tribute to her life.”


Coincidentally, my April 24 post on FAR included a photo of an Armenian grandmother tying an offering of cloth to just such a tree. The ancient folk custom of the wishing tree, where people (usually women) tie cloths with a special prayer for a loved one, can be found today in Armenia, Turkey, and Greece, in Asia and throughout Europe as far as the British Isles and in Asia as well. This ‘clootie tree’ by the ‘clootie well’ (cloth = clootie) in Madron, Cornwall, is almost identical to the Armenian one shown in my previous post.


Carol P. Christ’s comment on my last post described a similar tree on her Greek island of Lesvos which she tells me is near hot baths once sacred in antiquity. She also stated that brides in ancient Greece would leave articles of their unmarried clothing on a tree dedicated to the virgin Goddess Artemis, one of many tree-worshipping rituals which were well-known and widespread in the ancient world...


Read the full article with illustrations on


The Greek Crisis and the Values of the Dance

February 15, 2015



Dear dancing friends,


I bring you greetings from Findhorn, where the light is waxing every day with a noticeably earlier sunrise and later sunset. The first blossoms and birds are responding with vigour  and there is an exquisite sense of renewed life in the air.


In Greece, the other place I call home, there is also a renewed sense of hope in the air, light and relief in people’s eyes.  After six years of gruelling economic and humanitarian crisis, people have given their support – peacefully and democratically – to a new government which wants to renegotiate Greek’s debt in a sustainable way.


Recent articles in the mainstream press finally acknowledge that in Greece, austerity has been pushed too far and it is time to find a compromise and a new solution. You can read my article about this situation, All We Are Saying Is Give Greece a Chance, today on the Feminism and Religion website.


In my article I describe some of the devastating effects of austerity in Greece, including soaring rates of poverty, hunger, unemployment, sickness, and suicide. And all for nothing: Greek debt is now a higher proportion of GDP than it was before the bailout. All of the bailout money went to foreign bankers, none of it to the Greek people. Those suffering are not the ones responsible for the crisis. Austerity doesn’t work.


It is time to exchange austerity for ‘charitable, civic-minded, loving’ values – values of generosity, hospitality, connection and mutual support. These are the values which brought me to live in Greece in the first place, and they are also the values of the dance. First and foremost, they affirm our common humanity. 


As you are lovers of Greece and of Greek dances, I ask you to please send compassionate thoughts and prayers to Greece now, for a peaceful and sustainable solution to both the debt crisis and the humanitarian crisis. 


And I encourage you to visit Greece this year if you can, to experience for yourselves the amazing sense of hope newly inspiring a nation which had lost all dignity and optimism. Your presence is a sign of solidarity with ordinary Greek people, who did not create the mess but have been made to pay for it, and who do not deserve further suffering.  They will cherish your support. 


There are still places on my upcoming 2015 seminars in Women’s Ritual Dances (for women):

    10-17 June 2015 in Lesvos, Greece

    30 August-6 September 2015: Mani, Greece 


For more information, and for details of workshops in other countries, please visit  I would be delighted to see you in the circle! 

If you are unable to join me on the above dates, there are many other wonderful events taking place at the centres where I teach, Milelja Inselgarten on Lesvos and Mani- Sonnenlink near Stoupa in the Peloponnese. The Kalikalos Centre in Pilion also has a full programme of alternative and holistic summer events, and I particularly recommend Carol P. Christ's twice-yearly Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete.


With love and blessings in the dance,