My mother, Vassiliki Manolitsi, born and raised in Lakonia, Peloponnese, and emigrated to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1960, following her elder brother, a chemist, who was already working in the gold mines there.
Her sister had also emigrated to New York. My mother found a job as a waitress at a café, owned and run by other immigrants of Greek origin. It was there that she met my father, Alexandros Papanikolaou from Cyprus, who had also emigrated in order to locate his brother who had been presumed lost. They got married and opened their own café on a Jewish loan.
I was born in 1965. In 1974, I was enrolled in the first Greek school of Johannesburg, the SAHETI (South African Hellenic Educational Technical Institute), which was founded by Giorgos Bizos – Nelson Mandela’s lawyer - and funded by the Greek community of Johannesburg.
The school had 80 students of mixed nationality and covered all grades from kindergarten to matriculation. Subjects were taught in 3 languages (Greek, Afrikaans, English), following the South African currriculum and including cultural activities like theatre and dance, inspired by ancient Greek and Anglo-Saxon civilization.
These activities were taught by 3 people: Morgan Ellis - headmaster, an educator and philhellene, Hazel Ucko, a drama teacher, and Patricia Clancy, a dance teacher, specializing in Classical Greek Dance (Ruby Ginner method). She inducted us into lyrical, athletic, ritual, Bacchic, tragic/lament, war and therapeutic kinds of dance combined with theoretical readings.
The red silk dress, chiton in ancient Greek, that I have brought today was created by my mother for a school performance between 1980 - 1982 and was originally plain without the ancient Greek theme decorations. They were added later here in Greece when I wore it in a revival of the ancient Nemean Games in 1996 in Nemea, Peloponnese, to perform the ‘Hymn to the Sun’ by Mesomedes the Cretan, a Roman-era Greek lyric poet and composer.
In 1983, I finished school and went on to study ballet in a technical institution, the Pretoria Technicon, for 3 years. As a professional dance teacher, I auditioned for NAPAC professional state Dance Company and was appointed on a permanent basis.
Around 1989, I decided to move back to Greece with my parents who had already settled in Marousi, a suburb of Athens. I was thrilled by the fact that I could set my eyes on the Parthenon every day.
I was lucky to come across Giannis Metsis’ dance school, behind the Archaeological Museum, where I studied ballet. In 1993, I became a ballet instructor with the State Dance School. I consider my participation in the project of the revival of Zouzou Nikoloudi’s, a famous Greek choreographer, work, as the highlight of my professional career.
‘Chorika’, Nikoloudi’s dance group, who dedicated themselves to research into ancient Greek drama’s choros, gave international performances for two years, from 1996 to 1998. In 1998, I met my husband, moved to Larissa and had a family, giving up my career for 20 years.
I have decided to return to Athens and my art in order to fulfill my vision of creating an overarching Ιnternational Hellenic Academy featuring ancient Greek performing arts, athletics, crafts, and science activities. For the moment, I am involved in NIROI (ΝΗΡΩΗ) organization’s projects, promoting the Ruby Ginner dance method, spirituality and hellenism.