The “Jerusalema” dance challenge kicks off the tourism season in Mykonos

Mykonos dance
The Mykonos crew performing under Igor Hernandez’s instructions at Windmills with Little Venice in the background. Credit: Elena Andreou / Facebook

This year’s viral dance, Mykonos’ “Jerusalema” Dance Challenge, was teamed up on Sunday to welcome the tourist season.

More than 70 local residents took part in the Jerusalma Dance Challenge on the famous seaside island in the Aegean Sea.

Jerusaluma Dance Challenge follows Syrtaki Flash Mob

The Jerusalema Dance Challenge is not the first public dance performance that the people of Mykonos have taken part in. Before the Lockdown, made necessary by Covid-19 the last two winters, up to 150 dancers lined up every year on Greek Orthodox Palm Sunday along the famous waterfront. A flash mob of Mykonos, the initial performance of the Syrtaki opened the trend. In the years that followed, other dances were performed. The local organizer hoped to set a Guinness World Record for Syrtaki dance.

As a result of continued global lockdowns, the “Jerusalema” Dance Challenge engaged people of all ages and nationalities, including hospital staff, police and nuns.

The Jerusalema challenge is a dance, much like the ALS Ice Bucket challenge which was causing a stir on the online video.

The “takers” take on the challenge of performing a dance reel to the song Jerusalema, a house song influenced by the gospel of 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 coworkers to challenge them to do the next dance.

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

The awe-inspiring 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 the original Fenómenos do Semba video.

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

Mykonos photographer inspired by Jerusalema Dance Challenge

In Mykonos, local photographer Elena Andreou, took inspiration from 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, not even in Greece,” she added.

Andreou started talking to friends about how to meet the challenge. They told her they were on board and she posted an open call for dancers from local Mykonos Facebook groups.

“When we need it, we can do great things together,” Andreou said of the challenge. Preschoolers just 4 years old and 73-year-old grandmothers took part in the show, which included men and women in various professions.

Igor Hernandez, who has taken up residence in Mykonos in recent years, has taught choreography to the performers. Hernandez, an immigrant to Greece from Cuba, is no stranger to dancing. He has performed at local events demonstrating his talent in Latin and modern dance.

Hernandez said of the challenge: “It was really beautiful. We really worked as a team to make the performance happen. Over 70 people participated in the event through practices and performances.

Andreou said that thanks to the Lockdown, small groups would come together at the Mykonos athletics stadium. Everyone sent number six in SMS authorization messages to 13088, designating the reason for their absence as physical exercise. During the lockdown, citizens’ movements were restricted and required the use of the text messaging system to justify trips outside the home. The group filmed and photographed at various outdoor locations around the island, using some of the most iconic locations.

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 the Armenistis lighthouse. Komexillis also edited the video.

Andreou said with the post on his Facebook page: “A huge thank you to all of you who embraced the idea and accepted Jerusalema’s challenge. You were the first to dance in Greece, in our Mykonos, the queen of the Aegean Sea.

In February, Angolan dance troupe Fenómenos do Semba created the viral video #JerusalemaDanceChallenge which showed their dance moves to the South African hit song Jerusalema. Their video takes place in a backyard in Luanda, where they enter a group dance, while eating their lunch from plates in their hands.

A literal collective movement

In the era of the coronavirus, the Jerusalema Dance Challenge video generated 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 into a one-word, one-word message of hope “Jerusalema” and amplified by an electronic beat that its Johannesburg-based creator, musician and producer Master KG describes as “spiritual.”

Assembling this rhythm in November 2019, he invited South African gospel singer Nomcebo Zikode to perform it lyrically. The magic is in the Zulu phrase “Jerusalema, ikhaya lami” (Jerusalem is my home) born from their scrambling. 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 wonderful dance,” writes Fenómenos do Semba in Portuguese on his Facebook page.

This gift to the world is the secret of the collective movement. Not in unison but through an individual response to Africanist poly-rhythmic aesthetic principles held together by a master structure. Dancing in this way is resistance, incorporating kinetic and rhythmic principles that initially circulated around the rim of the Atlantic (including the Americas, Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa). It connects and revitalizes by staging an embodied memory of resistance to slavery.

The Jerusalema Dance Challenge is an example of how dance makes it possible to live together. Line dancing brings the parties to life with simple choreography that makes people dance together. The routines involve directional movements activated by a change of foot, with the dancers turning 90 degrees to repeat the choreography. The syncopated steps create a pleasant tension, and more and more people can join in as the routine repeats itself until the end of the song.

Angola’s rich social dance culture has globalized through kizomba couple dances and the more upbeat semba. A DJ will periodically divide the dancing couples with a piece that unites the crowd through line dance routines that evoke Angolan music and the kuduro dance style: hyper-exaggerated, angular, skilful, sardonic. Kuduro’s steps are difficult. To make the routines easier to understand, they are mixed with generic Afro-beat dance steps.

Rich heritage of dance in Greece

Greece also has a rich dance heritage. Iconic images of men and women spread out with their hands on their shoulders in rhythmic movement when we say “Greek dance”. The Greeks have been dancing for almost 3000 years. The origins of Greek dance date back to the 2nd millennium BC. Tradition has it that Crete, home of Minoan civilization, is the cradle of Greek dance. Minoan art and culture had a great impact on Mycenaean civilization and the Cycladic people, and these three together rocked what is known today as classical Greek or Hellenic culture.

The playwright of Greek tragedy Sophocles, in his work Ajax, calls Pan the dancer of the gods who had invented dances based on the dance steps practiced in Knossos. Athenaeum, also, highlights Crete as the birthplace of several types of dance, including pyrrhic or war dance and sikinnis or satyr dance.

Gold seals and rings adorned with engraved figures of dancing women have been found at Isopata, near Knossos, and at Hagia Triada, near Phaistos, from c. 1500 BC. At the eastern end of Crete, in Palaikastro, clay figurines have been discovered of several dancers, which also appear in the murals of the late Minoan palace of Knossos.

Painted and sculpted Cretan figures of dancing women are often identified as goddesses or priestesses, suggesting a fundamental relationship between dancing and religious beliefs common in most early communities and ancient civilizations, including ancient Greece.

Lucian, credited with the only surviving full text on ancient dance, believed the dance to be a cosmic creation because the stars and planets in their harmonious journeys dance around the universe. In Greek mythology, Urania, the muse of astronomy, also held a certain presidency over dance, taking up the theoretical side of the art of dance, the main patron of which was her sister Terpsichore, the “delight of the dance”.

The primary importance of dance in ancient Greece is emphasized by archeology. The oldest inscription written in the Greek alphabet found to date, the Dipylon inscription, on a terracotta wine jug, qualifies it as an award to “whoever of those dancers now plays most delicately.”

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

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