What Circle Dance means to me
When my sister and I first agreed to collaborate on a story, we constructed one similar to what we loved to read at the time—stories about women, their emotional lives, and the choices they make in life. Our first characters were three sisters—beautiful, blonde, rich, and American. The story was a struggle and we realized that we were not writing about what we knew or even about what spoke to us—but rather to what was popular and interesting at the time.We talked about the fact that there were very few stories about the Greek American experience. While similar to other ethnic stories—there are unique aspects to being Greek that we felt needed to be shared.
Many years later, my sister and I have improved our writing craft by working with editors, rewriting and revising several more books, and attending workshops and classes. And while it’s easy to look back at an early work with critical eyes, for us Circle Dance will always be more about the story than the writing.
Growing up in a close, tight-knit, community, surrounded by families that had been friends for generations, there was much to be enjoyed about the experience. Being second generation Greek Americans, our loyalties were very much in the American camp. There was a sense of rebellion and wrestling against the tight constraints our grandmother, and to a lesser extent our mother tried to put on us. The admonition to marry inside the Greek community fell on deaf ears for all three of my siblings as well as myself. We all married wonderful people who brought their own unique heritage and traditions into the tapestry of our lives. Circle Dance is a reminder to them as well—to embrace their beginnings and to never forget that we all come from someplace else. Before writing Circle Dance, we didn’t give much thought to what our grandparents and their own parents had sacrificed in order to improve their lives in a new country. Sophia, the wise grandmother, reflects on this fact during a time of crisis in the lives of the Parsenis family:
Sophia was proud of her family in this time of uncertainty and apprehension. They had drawn together around Nick and Eleni, supporting them with their prayers and their presence. She was thankful to be alive to see the fruits of the teaching she and Andreas had tried to instill in their children and grandchildren. Sophia’s own mother, Vasiliki, had not been so fortunate. By the time Sophia and Andreas could afford to make the long voyage back to Greece, Vasiliki was dead. She never saw her daughter’s children. It was only now that her own children and grandchildren were grown that Sophia fully appreciated just how much her mother had missed. Perhaps she was too busy as a young woman to give it much thought or perhaps it was too painful to dwell upon in those days when there was nothing she could do to remedy it anyway. But now she realized the emptiness that she and all the other immigrants left in the souls of parents who knew they would very likely never again set eyes on their offspring, their parenting abruptly terminated and ended forever. Her mother had never challenged her decision to leave for America and never, she now realized, allowed her to see the sorrow she felt at her departure. They were brave, these parents who were left behind alone and childless, and they were openhanded in their unstinting generosity to let go.
Looking back to my childhood I now realize that I took for granted the privilege of knowing first-hand my grandmother—fresh from the Greek soil—her Greek accent and customs intact. It tied me closely to my roots and cemented forever my connection to Greece and things Greek. My own children, only half Greek feel no such connection. I have to build for them, layer by layer, an understanding of the importance of knowing your heritage and of being tied to something that came before. Circle Dance is my legacy to them—a view into a world they will never literally enter—but one in which they can vicariously enjoy. May they taste the home-baked bread my Yiayia so lovingly prepared—the butter melting into its warm folds—sugar sprinkled on top. It is my hope that in these pages, they will one day discover the wonderful traditions and customs that are rooted in their genetic makeup—that they will hear the voices of their ancestors. I hope they might one day desire to return to the country of their origin and appreciate its beauty and splendor. Whatever their response— of one thing they can be assured—Circle Dance was a true labor of love for my sister and me. I hope they will pass it along to their children one day and that the legacy will continue.