Friday, April 25, 2008

A time to mourn, a time to dance

Is there ever a time when it's not OK to dance? Of course there have always been priests telling people not to dance on sabbaths, but what about dancing at a time of war and misery? My general view is that dancing as the affirmation of life is irrepressible even in the darkest times, but sometimes doesn't defiance become indifference to others' suffering?

There's a bit of a fuss at the moment about an exhibition of photographs of Parisians apparently enjoying themselves under Nazi occupation, including nightclubbing. Was this simple collaboration? Undoubtedly in some cases, although the history of the Zazous - denounced by fascists for defying bans on dancing - suggests that dancing in wartime France was more complex.

But clearly there are times when a line is crossed, and here's an unambiguous example. When the Nazis and their Bulgarian allies occupied Greece they massacred the majority of the country's Jewish population. In the city of Salonica, 95% of Jews were rounded up and deported to death camps, with around 45,000 being killed at Auschwitz. When the few survivors returned to the city in 1945 they found that 'Jewish tombstones were to be found in urinals and driveways, and had been used to make up the dance-floor of a taverna built over a corner of the former cemetery itself'.

Source: Salonica: City of Ghosts - Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950 - Mark Mazower (Lonon, Harper Collins, 2004)

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