Theodore Menelaus "Ted" Petrides, a noted Greek-American musicologist and dance researcher, was born in Brooklyn, New York in October of 1928, the younger of two sons. His older half-brother, Basil, lost his mother in childbirth. His father, Menelaus, a dental surgeon, was born in the village of Saranta Ekklisies, located in a region of Thrace under Ottoman Turkish rule. His mother, Demetra née Kassolis, was born in Cairo, Egypt to Greek parents from Thessaloniki. Her father was a prosperous merchant in Cairo but was forced to return to Thessaloniki in financial ruin after the outbreak of World War I.
As a young boy Ted developed a love for music, dance, and history. While attending the social functions at various Greek Orthodox Church's he became actively involved in Greek folkdance. Although denied music lessons by his father, he managed to find ways to practice drums here and there, which must have assisted in his firm grasp of the fast odd meters of Macedonia and Pondos.
While attending a New York City boy's camp, Ted was among a small group of boys who received swimming instruction from Buster Crabbe, the Olympic gold medalist, turned actor who played Buck Rogers in a 1930's serial and later Tarzan. Petrides was a good swimmer in spite of his size of 6'-2" and 275 pounds. He also was a graceful diver.
Petrides attended Stuyvasent High School and somewhere between grade school and high school he attended the Yeshiva School in Washington Heights for one year. He loved to experience varied cultural and ethnic backgrounds and to make friends, learn their food, music, dances, and history.
After graduating high school in 1946, he enrolled in the Shenandoah College and Conservatory of Music in Harrisonburg, Virginia where he earned an associates degree in science. He made the choice for two reasons: He wanted to get away from New York City and his father's influence (Menelaus insisted that his son become a doctor), and the school was near his uncle's restaurant in Quantico, Virginia located just across from the front gate of the Marine Corps training base. There he could make a little extra cash between semesters flipping hamburgers. While at college he met Elfleida Judy, a piano and voice student, whom he would marry in 1950. After graduating in 1948, Petrides enrolled at New York University, earning credits towards a BA degree.
In 1950 he lived in Miami, Florida where he worked as an orderly in Jackson Memorial Hospital. While in Miami the couple Ted and Elfleida taught ballroom dancing at the Fred Astaire Studio in Coral Gables.
Petrides returned to New York City in 1951 and with his inheritance bought a brownstone in the south Bronx near Yankee Stadium. He then completed his required coursework at New York University and earned a BS degree in biology although he never pursued work in that field. He worked for A. A. Hageman Inc. beginning in 1955. After Hageman's passing in 1964, Petrides bought what was left of the business which became Petrides Real Estate and Management Corp. He would often times open the business, make a few calls, then head off to the New York Public Library and sometimes stay until closing conducting research. In the evenings he would attend any folkdance function he could find and take copious notes of dance steps.
During this period he founded a dance troupe, "The Anatolian Folk Dancers." They performed at as many church functions, picnics, parties, and night clubs they could get. In the nineteen-fifties and early sixties the area around 23rd Street and Eighth Avenue was booming with Greek and middle-eastern nightclubs. Some of the clubs where they performed regularly were, The Ali-Baba, The Egyptian Gardens, and All Points East. There were also TV appearances, and educational engagements at universities and public schools in a lecture demonstration format. At first he manufactured handouts himself on an old mimeograph machine in his basement that illustrated dance steps in sequential order. The basement was also used for rehearsals.
His first book, Folk Dances of the Greeks, co-authored with Elfleida was brought out on Exposition Press in 1960. The book actually sold a fair number of copies considering the topic which at that time was far from popular. The books were displayed and sold at performance venues which helped in sales. To get more copies, Petrides was often engaged in somewhat rough negotiations with Exposition Press's infamous publisher who tried to get him to pay retail price per book when bought in bulk.
Petrides founded the Hellenic-American Folkdance Association which took part in programs for cultural societies, fund raising campaigns, and non-profit organizations as well as for festivals: the Parnassos Society and television. He was a member of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA.) He was also a member of the Pan-Thracian Society and the A.H.E.P.A.
Although Petrides was able to conduct substantive research in the U.S., he knew the only means of conducting serious research required either frequent trips to Greece –- which were expensive -- or to relocate there permanently. At some point in the late nineteen-fifties he began actively writing grant applications but to no avail. It was only after the tremendous success of the Hollywood film, Zorba the Greek, which popularized Greek dance through Anthony Quinn's character, that he received a grant from the Institute for Balkan Studies in 1967 to go to Greece and conduct research.
The move to Greece was not without concerns. There were two children and the family unit included his mother-in-law who was there to help out. Elfleida was seriously ill with cirrhosis of the liver though she never drank. To make matters worse the funds from the grant were distributed periodically and often late. At one point the family ate mostly bread and marmalade for a few weeks. To compound the problem Petrides encountered obstacles when trying to get a work permit. Later on he taught at several institutions including, The Hellenic American Union, Pierce College, Deeree College, Study in Greece, and classes at the University of Athens, which together afforded a moderate income.
In 1970, Petrides began a teaching association with Katherine Butterworth who created, Study in Greece, an accredited five month college study program for juniors and seniors. Her curriculum focused on the study of contemporary Greek life and as such was the first of its kind -- up until that time, all of the study abroad programs in Greece concentrated on the antiquities. According to Butterworth, Petrides' role in the program was an essential component –- he taught students folk dances, and also taught them about the music, costumes and customs. Then the students traveled by bus to a festival located in a selected town or village, where under his guidance, they would both witness and interact with the locals. According to Butteworth, Petrides chose the destination of the field trips and had in mind what he sought to learn there.
At some point in the nineteen-seventies he began directing summer folkdance excursions to Greece organized to attract foreigners which paid well by Greek standards. Excursions often included trips to the Greek islands. He joked that his favorite groups were Japanese and German because they adhered to the itinerary. He claimed that Americans tended to veer off and go their own way, making his job more exhausting. He said, "I have to run around like a sheepdog." According to Petrides he would conduct as much research as he could while directing excursions by taking the tours to places he was investigating. His yet unpublished manuscript, The Dances of Cyprus, may have resulted from his research there in between and/or during tourist excursions.
On weekends and between semesters Petrides would take frequent trips collecting folkdances. He also filmed, photographed, and recorded the dancers and musicians and conducted interviews of the participants and villagers. Several articles resulted from these trips. One article, Ta Anastenaria, featured a new perspective on the fire dancers of northern Greece which caused a bit of a stir in the research community and some trouble from the authorities -- much to his delight. According to legend, the villagers received their ability to walk on a pit of hot coals from God after they ran into their church, set ablaze by the Turks, to save the icons. He got a visa into then communist Bulgaria and interviewed its remaining inhabitants -- two elderly women -- of a village that had the same ability to fire walk. He compared their terminology for the ritual with the Greek and noted linguistic similarities between the two which suggested that the dance was ancient and pagan in origin. The reference to paganism aroused the ire of the Greek Orthodox Church. This, according to Petrides, led to his phone being tapped by the government.
In addition to his work Petrides gave consultation to and taught some dances for Dora Stratou -- the famed director of the Dora Stratou Theatre located in the ruins of the Acropolis. The theatre presented authentic Greek folkdances to large audiences often comprised of busloads of tourists as part of their tour package. According to several of his friends, his relationship with Ms. Stratou was a friendly but a cautious one -- there were concerns of intellectual property. Ms. Stratou's contribution to the study of Greek folkdance is invaluable, however she was also known as an astute businesswoman.
By 1972, Elfleida's health took a turn for the worse and, under advice from her mother and against Ted's wishes, returned to the United States with her children. In December of that year Elfleida passed away in Augusta, Georgia.
In 1975, Ted conducted dance research in villages in Greece. That same year, he put out his second book, Greek Dances, a manual of dances aimed at the tourist market and was placed in tourist shops and news stands. The book sold quite well during that period: The last print date seems to be in 1994. That same year he co-authored a book, The Rembetica. The book detailed the history of the Rembetica, its connection to the Greek underworld, a discussion comparing the form to the blues, musical transcriptions, translation of selected lyrics into English, and a description by Petrides of the dances.
Beginning in the late nineteen-seventies Petrides received more opportunities to travel throughout Europe and the United Sates to give dance master classes and adjudicate Greek folkdance events. At roughly the same time he began teaching folklore in addition to English in the institutions mentioned earlier -- certainly what he sought to teach from the outset some fourteen years earlier.
Petrides developed a limp -- the result of an automobile accident -- which began to compromise his ability to dance at a level acceptable to him. According to Petrides, a friend "had too much to eat one evening and ran the car into a pole. My knee slammed into the dash which jammed my leg into my hip socket."
By the mid-nineteen-eighties, his hip condition worsened making walking let alone dancing problematic. Petrides sought a cure from the condition but was not ready to go ahead with hip replacement surgery. A temporary solution was injections of a type of Teflon into the socket to act as a buffer. The procedure took place in Zurich on two occasions. The first went well but after a time wore down and the second did not seem to afford much relief. He died on September, 9 1988, the result of a fall while recuperating from the second procedure at the home of his friend's who happened to be away on a holiday.
Teds's articles and publications include the following books (plus many articles and liner notes):
Ted died September 4, 1988. His wife, Elfleida, had died in 1972.
Much of the foregoing text was taken from the website "Ted Petrides, Folklorist" at http://tedpetrides.com/bio.php.
Ted's extensive archives were donated to the Musical Folklore Archives of the Centre for Asia Minor Studies by his son, Ron, a musician who lives in New Jersey and is on the jazz faculty of New York's New School University. They consist of Ted's entire impressive book and sound library, his notes, comments and remarks on Greek dances, his correspondence, papers by his students, and his unpublished treatise on the dances of Attica.
Laura Blumenthal commenting on Ted wrote, "I had the pleasure of attending a dance seminar taught by Ted Petrides in Athens in 1979 -- what a character! He even dared to teach the Zeimbekikos as a folk dance. Too bad he's no longer with us."
Dances Ted taught include Babo Horosou, Ballos, Cretike Sousta, Cretiko Syrto, Dodekanesiotiko, E Tratta, Ikariotiko, Kalamatiano, Karpathiko, Karsilamas, Kassiotike Sousta, Kastrinos Pedektos, Leriko, Pentozales, Roditioun Sousta, Serra, Sinitsa, Skelestos Horos, Sta Dio, Sta Tria, Syrto, Tik, Tsamiko, Tsifte Telli, Vari Hassapiko, and Zeimbekikos.