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“Jerusalema” Dance Challenge Kicks Off Season of Tourism in Mykonos

Mykonos dance
Team Mykonos performing under the instruction of Igor Hernandez at Windmills, with “Little Venice” in the background. Credit: Elena Andreou/Facebook

This year’s viral dance from Greece, the “Jerusalema” Dance Challenge from Mykonos, premiered as a team effort on Sunday to welcome the 2021 tourism season.

More than 70 local residents took part in the Jerusalma Dance Challenge on the renowned resort island in the Aegean.

Jerusaluma Dance Challenge Follows Syrtaki Flash Mob

The Jerusalema Dance Challenge is not the first public dance performance Mykonos residents have taken part in. Prior to the lockdown necessitated by Covid-19 the last two winters, up to 150 dancers lined up annually on Greek Orthodox Palm Sunday along the famous waterfront.

A Mykonos flash mob initial performance of the Syrtaki set the trend. In the years that followed, other dances were performed. The local organizer hoped to set a Guinness World Record for the Syrtaki Dance.

A product of continuing worldwide lockdowns, the “Jerusalema” Dance Challenge has engaged individuals of all ages and nationalities, including hospital staff, police forces and nuns.

The Jerusalema challenge is a dance, much like the ALS Ice Bucket challenge that became a worldwide video sensation online.

The “takers” assume the challenge of performing a dance reel to the song Jerusalema, a gospel-influenced house song by South African producer Master KG and performed by singer-songwriter Nomcebo.

They upload a video of their dance to social media and tag their friends, family or co-workers to challenge them to do the dance next.

The dance trend began in February of last year, when Fenómenos do Semba, a group in Angola, southwest Africa, recorded themselves dancing to the song while eating and without dropping their plates.

The impressive dance started going viral almost immediately, before exploding into the mainstream of the western world in early 2021 — but most people still copy the moves seen in Fenómenos do Semba’s original video.

The upbeat song was initially released in November of 2019. It garnered positive response online, with a music video following in December. It was later included on Master KG’s second album of the same title, released in January 2020. A single edit was released on streaming services last July, after it went viral during mid-2020.

Mykonos Photographer Inspired by Jerusalema Dance Challenge

In Mykonos, local photographer Elena Andreou was inspired by the video and thought it would be fun to create a Mykonos team for the challenge. “I decided to do it because no one else had done it in Mykonos, or even in Greece,” she added.

Andreou began talking to friends about doing the challenge. They told her they were on board and she posted an open call for dancers in local Mykonos Facebook groups.

“When we need to, we can do beautiful things together,” Andreou said of the challenge. Pre-schoolers only four years of age, and grandmothers who were 73 years old, took part in the performance, which included males and females who have a variety of occupations.

Igor Hernandez, who has called Mykonos home for the past few years, instructed the performers in the choreography. Hernandez, an immigrant to Greece from Cuba, is no stranger to dance. He has performed at local events demonstrating his talent in both Latin and Modern Dance.

Hernandez said of the challenge, “It was really beautiful. We truly worked as a team to make the performance happen.” More than 70 individuals participated in the event across the practices and performances.

Andreou said that through the lockdown small groups would assemble at the Mykonos Athletic Stadium. Everyone sent the number six in SMS permission messaging to 13088, designating their reason for being out as “physical exercise.”

During the lockdown, citizen movement was restricted and required the use of the text messaging system to justify movement outside of the home. The group filmed and photographed at different outdoor locations around the island, using some of the most iconic sites.

Valentinos Komexillis captured the drone footage of the performances. The Team Mykonos Jerusalema Dance Challenge was filmed on the waterfront, at the windmills, with Little Venice on display, at Agios Yiannis Beach with Delos in the background, and at the Armenistis Lighthouse. Komexillis also edited the video.

Andreou stated in the post on her Facebook page, “A huge thank you goes out all of you that embraced the idea and accepted the Jerusalema challenge. You were the first to dance in Greece, in our Mykonos, the Queen of the Aegean.”

In February the Angolan dance troupe Fenómenos do Semba created the viral Jerusalema Dance Challenge video that showed off their dance moves to the South African hit song Jerusalema. Their video is set in a backyard in Luanda, where they break into a group dance, all the while eating lunch from plates in their hands.

A Literal Collective Movement

In the age of coronavirus, the Jerusalema Dance Challenge video generated a type of happy counter-contagion. Almost overnight everyone from police departments in Africa to priests in Europe were posting their own Jerusalema dance videos that repeated the choreography.

The challenge videos were swept along in a message of hope, condensed in the single word “Jerusalema,” and amplified through an electronic beat that its creator, Johannesburg-based musician and producer Master KG, describes as “spiritual.”

Putting together this beat in November 2019, he invited South African gospel vocalist Nomcebo Zikode to interpret it lyrically. The magic is in the Zulu phrase “Jerusalema, ikhaya lami” (Jerusalem is my home) arose through their jamming. Then the Angolans provided an irresistible choreography — and the rest is history.

“We are happy to bring the joy of dance to the whole world through this marvellous dance,” Fenómenos do Semba write in Portuguese on their Facebook page.

This gift to the world is the secret of moving collectively. Not in cookie-cutter unison but through individual response to poly-rhythmic Africanist aesthetic principles that are held together by a master-structure.

Dancing in this way is resistance, incorporating kinetic and rhythmic principles that circulated initially around the Atlantic rim (including the Americas, Europe, the Caribbean and Africa). It connects and revitalizes by enacting an embodied memory of resistance to enslavement.

The Jerusalema Dance Challenge is an example of how dance enables living together. It is  line dancing that enlivens parties through simple choreography that makes people dance together. Routines involve directional movement enabled by the switching of feet, with dancers turning 90 degrees to repeat the choreography. Syncopated steps create enjoyable tension, and more and more people can join as the routine repeats itself till the song ends.

Angola’s rich social dance culture has gone global through the couple dances kizomba and the more upbeat semba. A DJ will periodically break up dancing couples with a track that unites the crowd through line dance routines that gesture to the Angolan music and dance style kuduro: hyper-exaggerated, angular, dexterous, and sardonic. Kuduro steps are hard. To make the routines easier to pick up, they’re mixed with generic Afro-beat dance steps.

Rich heritage of dance in Greece

Greece also has a rich dance heritage, of course. Iconic images of men and women spread out with hands on shoulders in rhythmic movement are evoked when we say “Greek Dance.”

Greeks have been dancing in the way we know now for at least the last 3000 years. The origins of Greek dance date back to the 2nd millennium BC. Tradition has it that Crete, home of the Minoan civilization, is the birthplace of Greek dance.

Minoan art and culture had a great impact on the Mycenaean civilization and the Cycladic people, and these three together cradled what is known today as the classical Greek, or Hellenic, culture.

The Greek tragedy playwright Sophocles, in his work “Ajax” calls Pan the dancemaker of the gods who invented dances based on the dance steps practiced in Knossos. Athenaeus, too, highlights Crete as the birthplace of several kinds of dance, including the pyrrhic, or war-dance, and the sikinnis, or the satyr dance.

Seals and gold rings decorated with engraved figures of dancing women were found in Isopata, near Knossos, and Hagia Triada, near Phaistos, from c. 1500 BC. At the eastern end of Crete, Palaikastro, clay figurines were discovered depicting several female dancers, who also appear in the wall-paintings of the Late Minoan palace at Knossos.

The Cretan painted and sculpted figures of dancing women are often identified as goddesses or priestesses, which suggests a fundamental relationship between dancing and religious beliefs common among most early communities and ancient civilizations, including ancient Greece.

Lucian, credited with the only surviving complete text about the ancient dance, believed that dance is a cosmic creation because the stars and planets in their harmonious travels dance around the universe. In Greek mythology, Urania, the Muse of astronomy, had some presidency over dance as well, taking over the theoretical side of the art of dancing, whose main patroness was her sister Terpsichore, the “dance delight.”

The primordial significance of dance in Ancient Greece is underscored by archaeology. The earliest inscription written in the Greek alphabet found so far, the Dipylon Inscription, on a terracotta wine jug, labels it as a prize to “whoever of these dancers now performs most delicately.”

With three millennia of dance in Hellenic DNA, surely another Greek area will want to accept the Jerusalema Dance Challenge from Mykonos.

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