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More than you ever wanted to know about Miserlou - LONG

Unedited, unverified, etc., etc. From the Eastern European mailing list.




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Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 09:34:08 -0600
Subject: Misirlou, Never on Sunday, etc. [VERY long]
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Excerpted from the 1994 Folk Dance Problem Solver, (c) Ron Houston and
the Society of Folk Dance Historians. Sorry it's so long, even without
the instructions and lyrics, but some stories should not be abbreviated.
Please note that the block quote and footnotes formatting do not appear
here and that others provided many significant words.
MISIRLOU  (me-zir-loo) = my unhappy one [according to the author, who
probably knew better but didn't want to confuse the listening public]


Cuando alegre tu sonries mujer - Spanish lyrics for Misirlou
Desert shadows creep across purple sands - English lyrics for Misirlou
Miserlou, Misery Lou - prevalent misspellings
Misirlou Variations, Never On Sunday, Hasamisu
Snake Dance - the name among some Girl Scouts

        "Is Misirlou Greek?"
        "Well, a Greek-American re-choreographed the Cretan prototype, making it
Greek by parantage and early development.  Another Greek-American
selected music which was written by a Greek, making it Greek by design
and by marriage.  And Greeks around the world and especially in Buffalo,
New York have taken it as their own, making it Greek by adoption."
        "Okay, it's Greek!"
        "But it wasn't created in Greece!  And those students weren't creating a
product of Greek culture!  And the music has absolutely nothing to do
with Greece.  Just read the words!  It isn't a Greek Syrto, it's a Latin
Beguine with an Arabian theme!"
        "Okay, it's not Greek!"
        Seriously though, the question of whether Misirlou is Greek or
recreational, folk or popular, or meritous or not depends on the use to
which you put it and on your definitions of "Greek" and "folk."  So I
suggest we call Misirlou a Greek dance for purposes of classification,
but not for purposes of description.  That way, you can locate this dance
description through a search for Greek dances, read the background, and
decide for yourself.

        Quoting Brunhilde Dorsh (no, she's not Greek):
    In the year 1945, the Duquesne University Folk Dancers, a group of
girls who shared my enthusiasm for dancing, were asked to participate in
a music-and-dance program to honor America's allies of World War II.  The
program was titled: "Music and Dance of Poland, Greece, Chechoslovakia
and Jugoslavia" and was arranged by the Tuesday Musical Club of
Pittsburgh.  I knew no Greek dances, but the girls in their quick and
enterprising way discovered two girls on the campus who were of Greek
background: Patricia Mandros and Mercine Nesotas.  Both knew something
about Greek folk dances and Pat could play the piano.  (We had no records
at that time.)  Before long we had learned the Hasapikos and Kritikos.
However, Pat had no piano music for the Kritikos, apparently it was not
as popular in Pittsburgh as other Greek dances.  In desperation one day,
she brought with her and gave to me a copy of "Misirlou" - an Arabian
Serenade by Roubanis.   She suggested that this music would come as close
to the right kind of music as anything she could find, and so we adapted
the dance to this tune.
    When we first performed this dance as "Kritikos" on the above
mentioned program at Stephen Foster Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh on March
6, 1945, I carefully explained to the audience that the dance had been
adapted.  After the program the girls, who had learned to like the dance
very much, suggested using it as a "theme dance" on other programs and
demonstrations, and thus it began to move off-campus and into the larger
folk dance world.  Monty Mayo, leader of the Community Folk Dance Group
of Pittsburgh at that time, introduced it in New York.  Michael Herman
first listed it in his catalogue, Standard F-9044, a "Pittsburgh Greek,"
and eventually suggested calling it "Misirlou" to avoid confusion with
the genuine Kritikos.  The dance was first notated by Mimi Kirkell and
Irma Schaffnit in their book: Partners All, Places All, E.P. Dutton and
Company, 1949.  I introduced this dance at Oglebay Park camp during the
Labor Day weekend of 1948.  I was delighted to find this dance enjoyed by
the Oglebayites and by the folk dancers elsewhere.
    As the dance has gone its way, interesting "folk lore" has attached
itself.  For example, the Girl Scouts in this area call it the "Snake
Dance."  A student at Duquesne, who had never seen the title of this
dance in print, once wrote me for information concerning the availability
of this record and referred to this dance as "Misery Lou."  We still get
a good laugh out of that and at times refer to it that way ourselves.
    Here endeth then, the story of Misirlou.


        Anne Pittman learned Misirlou at Oglebay and introduced it to Southern
California in the early 1950s,  and this Beguine lilted along, changing
but little.  In the late 1950s, the Armenian community of Southern
California either adopted or inspired the linked-little-fingers handhold,
set the dance to Armenian renditions of that Latin Misirlou, and inspired
a new family of dances, the Armenian Miserlou (see page 1 of this book).

        Art Schrader observed "A circle dance from Greece as done by the Youth
Group in the Greek Orthodox Church in Buffalo," and presented the
resultant Syrto at Oglebay Institute, 1955 and at an unspecified
Pittsburgh Camp.   Although he used Liberty Record 17-B, Panagiositsa, a
Syrto with Helen Yianakakis singing, the dance is identical to Misirlou
and Misirlou Variations.

        In 1960, Never On Sunday   became the first foreign song to win an
Academy Award  and spent 14 weeks on the Top Ten list,  inspiring in 1967
the musical Illya Darling with new lyrics by Joe Darion,  and yet more
lyrics by Billy Towne in 1968.   And what does this have to do with
Misirlou?  Well, Bob Wischnick (or Wiechnick), formerly of Wheeling, West
Virginia,  learned Misirlou from Buffalo-area Greeks (sound familiar?),
allegedly added two Hasapiko-like variations to the Misirlou step, called
it Hasa Misu, and set it to Never On Sunday.  The name, perhaps derived
from Hasapiko and Misirlou, later became Hasamisu and was said to
represent the "real" Greek dance from which Misirlou was derived.
Whether Art Schrader or Bob Wischnick/Wiechnick "discovered" Misirlou
Variations really doesn't matter now, since they both learned from the
same source, that Greek Orthodox community in Buffalo.
        By the way, our Greek Orthodox friends here in Austin translated
hasamisu as a rude phrase meaning "Go engage in sexual intercourse with
yourself."  When you stop laughing, consider this: unless Buffalo Greeks
or Bob W. perpetrated the name as a jest, it illustrates one problem of
creating or accepting "fakelore," the problem of translating significance
from one culture to another.  At least one recreational group in America
is named "Always on Sunday."  Good thing they didn't name themselves

        The subsequent and continuing decline of international folk dancing has
not diminished the popularity of Misirlou as Greeks around the world
embrace it as their own, providing an example of the phenomenon that folk
dancers legitimize with the label "reverse osmosis."  Lest you fret
further for the future fortunes of faux Kritiokos, know that also
Eurythmics teachers and Surfers preserve it:

   I taught some folk dances at a summer program for eurythmics teachers
[...]  Of course we had to do Miserlou and they told me how the dance had
come to be.  [...] the Beach Boys recorded a version of Miserlou
(instrumental only).  It's on their Surfin' USA album.  It's a bit faster
than the Miserlou I'm used to - obviously I need to go back and dance the
original Kritikos/Syrtos Haniotikos to it.

What's Eurythmics?  Well, it's obviously no kin to Eugenics else we might
not have Misirlou/Never On Sunday/Hasamisu to dance.  Quoting Jere
Paulmeno: "I encourage folk dancers to dance haniotiko syrto to its
native music.  The traditional music of Crete is beautiful in its own
right, thrilling to dance to, and requires no foreign substitution."

        We had danced Misirlou and Never On Sunday/Hasamisu for some years when
George Lowrey presented a rather different dance (resembling the Greek
Slow Hasapiko) to Never On Sunday at the 1967 Texas Camp.  Quoting
George's directions: "This particular version probably originated in
        And Brunhilde?  Art Hurst cites the Carnegie-Mellon Alumni News of June,
1980: "Mrs. [Brunhilde E.] Dorsch retired in May after 42 years with
Duquesne University's School of Music."

[Extensive instructions omitted for brevity. They wouldn't format well,

I was curious about composer Nicholas Roubanis.  A little research
uncovered some of his writings: approximately 8 works on Greek liturgical
music, a Rumba medley arrangement of Quie'reme mucho, Be'same mucho, and
Misirlou, and music and Greek lyrics for Misirlou as a Beguine, the
lyrics of which follow.

[Extensive lyrics omitted for brevity. They wouldn't format well,

    Also known as Syrtos Haniotikos or Kritikos Syrtos (see page 17 of
this Folk Dance Problem Solver).
    N. Roubanis.  Misirlou.  New York: Colonial Music Publishing Company,
1927, 1934, 1941.  Note that this is a Beguine, not a Tango as some folk
call it.
    Brunhilde Dorsh.  "How Misirlou Came Into Being" in Viltis 17:5
(October-November 1958), p. 21-2.
    "Misirlou" in Let's Dance (April 1962), p. 15.
    "SYRTO Taught by Art. Schrader." in Oglebay Institute 1955 (syllabus).
  Oglebay Park, West Virginia: 1955; and Texas Folk Dance Camp 1967
(syllabus).  Austin, Texas: Texas International Folk Dancers, 1967, as
reprinted from "Hasamisu" Folk Dance House dance instruction sheet.
    Words and music by Manos Hadjidakis.
    Julius Mattfeld.  Variety Music Cavalcade 1620-1961.  Englewood
Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1962.
    Elston Brooks.  I've Heard Those Songs Before.  New York: Morrow Quill
Paperbacks, 1981.
    Richard Lewine and Alfred Simon.  Songs of the American Theater.  New
York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1973.
    William Gargan and Sue Sharma, eds.  Find That Tune.  New York:
Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1984.
    Constance V. Mynatt and Bernard D. Kaiman.  Folk Dancing for Students
and Teachers.  Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown, 1968, p 74.
    Stan Isaacs.  Internet rec.folk-dancing newsgroup message 4823, August
12, 1994.
    Warren Kubitschek.  internet rec.folk-dancing newsgroup message 4852,
August 15, 1994.
"Comments & Letters" in Viltis 44:4 (December 1985), p. 34.
Texas Camp 1967 (Syllabus).
Art Hurst.  internet rec.folk-dancing newsgroup message 4733, August 9,
James J. Fuld.  The Book of World-Famous Music, rev. & enl. ed.  New
York: Crown, 1971, p. 388.


Subject: Re: Misirlou, Never on Sunday, etc. [VERY long]
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 13:12:29 -0800
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From: "Joe C. Carson" <rowanwood (at) earthlink(dot)net>
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 >Excerpted from the 1994 Folk Dance Problem Solver, (c) Ron Houston and
 >the Society of Folk Dance Historians. Sorry it's so long, even without
 >the instructions and lyrics, but some stories should not be abbreviated.
 >Please note that the block quote and footnotes formatting do not appear
 >here and that others provided many significant words.

You are right. It IS long! However, a rather good history of "Misrable
Lou" as we used to call it in the old Middle Eastern clubs.

A couple of notes:
The poor woman who unwittingly started the Misirlou snowball spent the
next 20 years trying to correct that mistake to no avail.

Never on Sunday was composed by the Greek popular composer Hadjidakis but
with a very different set of words. The original words start "I saw one
pair of eyes, two pair of eyes, three pair of eyes, four pair of eyes
watching me as I walk down the street...". The music was sold to an
American firm that immediately trashed the original words and imposed
their own words by a hack lyric writer. Hadjidakis was so unhappy with
the treatment of his work that he disowned it.

Misirlou actually does mean "The Egyptian" in Greek. The other
translations of the title are simply off the wall. It is also classified
by students of Greek Rembetiko as an "Orientale". Orientales are a
sub-class of Greek Rembetiko that are essentially pseudo-Arabic tunes.
Well, they sound Arabic music to Greeks in any case. Most Orientales are
not particularly good tunes but some are not too bad although they sound
more like those American psuedo-Latin pop pieces that were popular in the
late 1930s through the 1940s. The scores to movies like "Road To Rio" are
examples for comparison.

Where the heck did "Hasamisu" come from?

Joe C. Carson

Joel Bresler
250 E. Emerson Rd.
Lexington, MA 02420 USA

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