The Cypriot who’s life has been dominated by dance
From learning to dance in the living room to teaching Greek steps around the world, one local choreographer’s life has been dominated by dance.
It is one of the most memorable and meaningful scenes in the history of black-and-white cinema. An opinionated, stubborn, impulsive, but most of all passionate Alexis Zorba (played by Anthony Quinn), is asked by his boss, Basil (played by Alan Bates) – a Greek intellectual who longs for a more authentic existence – to teach him how to dance.
With a surprised expression on his face, Zorba responds, “Dance. Did you say, dance? Come on, my boy.” And the film famously concludes with both men dancing enthusiastically on a beach in Chania, Crete. Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, the film made Zorba the Greek a household name and brought global recognition to the sirtaki folkdance.
For over two decades, renowned choreographer Christos Shakallis has been teaching the Zorba dance and sharing his passion for Greek and Cypriot folkloric dances with audiences around the world. His deeply personal, and introspective work creates something memorable and powerful, raising awareness of his cultural identity through dance.
“The job of a choreographer is to find what is personal to them,” says Christos. “Stories are told through dance, and the dances created to communicate them are based on my personal experiences, beliefs, interpretations, and feelings.”
As someone who has choreographed and danced in competitions around the world, Christos’ approach to creating and choreographing new dances is refreshing. “The art-making process always fuels my soul,” he explains. “I have a deep and intense connection to dance. When I go into that creation process, I enter a transcendent place, and the juices start to flow.”
Born in Nicosia in 1972, Christos grew up in a dance environment where his parents immersed him in the art of dancing. “I owe my love of music and dance to my parents, especially my father, who was my greatest influence for a number of reasons,” Christos says. “He also demonstrated that success is earned through hard work; he inspired and taught me to always believe in myself, and that nothing was impossible.”
“In the early 1970s, my father’s passion for dance inspired him to open a dance school in our living room, teaching Cypriot and Greek folk dance classes.”
It was only a matter of time before the at-home dance studio moved to larger premises, laying the foundations for the Shakallis Dance School that exists today.
After graduating from high school and completing his military service, Christos enrolled in the prestigious London Studio Centre, a British dance and theatre school, focusing on classical ballet, contemporary dance, jazz dance, and musical theatre. He furthered his dance education, adding Spanish, Latin, and Freestyle to his dance portfolio, and is now an accredited member of the International Dance Teachers Association and one of the few salsa dance diploma holders.
Since joining the family business in 1995, Christos has choreographed and participated in several local festivals across the island and has become a popular dance personality on Cypriot television, and teaches at the European University.
One of his most defining moments was the Eurovision Song Contest in 2008, where he represented Cyprus alongside singer Evdokia Kadi. “Eurovision was big and brash, with a vibrant mix of cultures, art, humour, and languages,” Christos states. “I had a great time being part of the world’s largest musical event, representing our island.”
After his father’s sudden death in 2014, Christos decided to carry on his father’s legacy, taking over as managing director of the Shakallis Dance School alongside his sister, Elena, who is the school’s artistic director and lead choreographer. Today, the school has five studios in the Nicosia district that teach all disciplines of dance.
But his reach extends beyond Nicosia. As founder and active member of Salsa Cyprus, a colourful annual Latin dance and music festival that attracts thousands of visitors, Christos continues to find ways to promote the island as a dance tourism destination his Cyprus Tango Meeting is the largest tango event on the island, attracting some of the world’s most renowned maestros and deejays. Christos was also instrumental in choreographing a simplified version of the sirtaki dance as part of Ayia Napa’s Guinness Book of Records attempt.
Despite his passion for Latin dance, Christos has remained true to his roots, teaching local and international audiences the zeibekiko, arguably the most popular and beloved dances and rhythms in Greece. “It may take two to tango, but only one to dance the zeibekiko,” Christos explains. “Dancing zeibekiko does not convey joy or passion; rather, it is a journey into one’s personal abyss.”
Christos claims to have rechoreographed the dance using his own technique, elevating it to a new level. After posting his own version of the zeibekiko on YouTube and going viral with millions of views, he was invited to Russia to teach the zeibekiko and the sirtaki dances as part of the National Ballet Kostroma’s 30th anniversary programme.
“Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but the moments that take your breath away,” Christos declares. “I could not imagine my life without dance.”
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a dance teacher, according to Christos, is the moment when a student is finally able to perform a certain skill after months of practice. “I love it when someone walks into the dance studio for the first time and asks me to teach them the sirtaki or the zeibekiko, to which I enthusiastically respond, come on, my boy.”