Throwing a hand in the air, Kathy Skettos yells “opa!” as she takes her place at the front of a large hall in South West Melbourne.
Dozens of women clad in sportswear and T-shirts reading “Dance Happy Yourself” wait, as Greek music begins to play.
Arms in the air, Kathy steps to the side, crossing her feet again and again to the beat of the bouzouki (a type of lute popular in Greece), stopping every few beats to clap, clap and cheer on the class. to be continued.
She is loud, energetic, and dances with an enthusiasm that compels those who watch her to take charge of her.
It’s OPA-cize. It’s part cardio, part disco and, according to Kathy, 100% Greek.
“Some of these songs are the ones that we grew up with and bring back, and we add the Greek movements and questionable aerobic form to it, and it works – it’s a great combination,” she says.
Kathy was born in Australia to Greek and Greco-Egyptian parents, she describes her upbringing as “very, very Greek”.
“My parents adopted the Australian way of life, but they were still very Greek,” she says.
“My sister, in particular, loved everything Greek; Greek music, Greek lifestyle, and we were arguing about it. I used to say, ‘can you be a little more English? We live in Australia. “”
His sister Mary was the inspiration behind OPA-cize. She died suddenly of heart failure in 2015.
At the time, Kathy was a Latin fitness instructor.
To honor Mary, Kathy designed a Greek dance class to reach out to women who didn’t feel comfortable in the gym, felt they weren’t coordinated enough for an exercise class, or struggled with pain. depression or isolation.
OPA-cize was started as a one-time event, but quickly found a niche in the competitive fitness industry.
“Before too long I had sold 300 tickets for that night and I said to my husband ‘I think there is potential for a business here – it’s crazy the reaction I’m getting.'”
After starting with just one class in a Sydney classroom, OPA-cize is now taught in almost every state and territory in Australia.
Dancing to modern and traditional Greek music, participants come from all walks of life.
Valérie Mustafay, specialist in the OPA-cize program, teaches in Brisbane. She says the class helped her reconnect with her Greek roots and that she is taking her non-Greek friends for the ride.
“At first people are a little hesitant because they ask themselves ‘what is this?’ Until they walk through the door I find that 99.9% of people come back because they love it so much, ”she says.
It also allowed second and third generation Greek migrants to learn more about their language and culture.
Dora Stankovic, an instructor in southwest Melbourne, says she learned to dance from her father. Now she is passing this tradition on to her daughter via OPA-cize.
“I think I wish daddy saw Dahlia dance, but just to show her the love of my tongue and our appreciation and just to understand the beauty behind her.”
Dahlia, who teaches alongside her mother, says Greek music and the Greek words spoken in class helped her learn the language of her grandparents.
“Before I started this I had little or no knowledge of the Greek language and now I have learned so much.”
In addition to becoming a hit in Australia, Kathy says the OPA-cize has been picked up in the US, Canada, UK, Switzerland, Germany and Japan in recent years.
It is a success that she attributes to her sister.
“I am blown away. I look over my shoulder to see who this person is who created OPA-cize. I don’t believe it was me. I love the program, it is wonderful and I fully thank Mary. .
Classes were put online during COVID-19 lockdowns but are now back. OPA-cize also runs a senior class for 65-85 year olds, and this year OPA-cize in the water was launched, called Aqua-cize.
While it’s marketed as a ‘have fun, get fit’ style of aerobics, instructor Sofie Karas says it’s more than an exercise class.
“Even if you don’t know the steps, even if you can’t follow the instructors, everyone is having so much joy for this hour. It’s a great escape, a great outlet for everyone and they love it. “
It’s an environment that instructor Tina Marmagelos says is accessible to everyone.
“You feel accepted – no matter your shape, size, age, nationality – we are on a dance floor dancing together.”
And Kathy says that with the noise and a lot of laughter, new friendships are formed.
“The Greeks are just prone to it and our classrooms are no different. Everyone is welcome at OPA-cize – it’s not exclusive, it’s inclusive – and that’s my biggest message.