Funded in part by a grant from the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust.
On July the Fourth, 1974, Thordis Simonsen went for the first time to Elika, a village in the Greek Peloponnese. She observed the village scene, made photographs, and wrote in her journal. In 1982, Thordis left her job teaching biology and anthropology, sold her middle-aged car, placed her beloved cat in a carefully chosen foster home, and moved to Elika. One day Thordis sat with an itinerant saddlemaker. When a village man passed by, the saddlemaker called out, “She tells me she has lived in Elika for over a year now.” The villager proclaimed, “Yes, it’s true. She’s an Elikiotissa now!”
The villagers call Thordis an Elikiotissa—a woman of Elika—because she participates widely in village life. She attends weddings and pig slaughters, goes to sea with fishermen, roams the hills with shepherds, picks olives, and reaps wheat. She also bought and single-handedly restores a roofless peasant dwelling long used as a sheep corral. In 1991, Thordis published Dancing Girl: Themes and Improvisations in a Greek Village Setting. Rendered in details down to the patches on a farmer’s work shoes, this collection of forty-four vignettes interweaves stories villagers told Thordis with stories Thordis told about Elika and gossip she overheard about the “American girl.” The result is a portrait of a Greek village in transition and an American woman’s metamorphosis. Thordis learned the meaning of hospitality from a goatherd who inhabited an exalted mountain realm; she learned patience from a local carpenter who defied his own deadlines; she learned the meaning of wit and wisdom from a great-grandmother who was unschooled. Above all, Dancing Girl acknowledges the ties that bind us all: feelings that need to be expressed and a human spirit that wants to be set free.
This muted, gently moving memoir [is] closely written, precisely described, simply told—with no punches pulled.
Each of the vignettes is an epiphany. Some of them made me cry for their purity. Some made me laugh out loud. Dancing Girl is a genuine encounter.
—Ramona Gault, Northwest Ethnic News
An anthropologist who gave up classroom teaching for the opportunity to live with her subjects in the field, Simonsen makes the reader privy to the intimate details of people’s lives—her subjects’ and hers—in a style that is both journalistic and sympathetic. Simonsen can write. Well.
—Green Valley News and Sun
A delightful ode to a people and their homeland.