Head On: Zembekiko dance

Head On: Zembekiko dance
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Head On (Ana Kokkinos, 1998) tells the story of a 19-year-old Greek Australian youth, Ari (played by Alex Dimitriades), who struggles with his sexual identity and his Greek heritage.

The film explores Ari’s tormented world through sonic means. The sounds of metropolitan and inner-city Melbourne are omnipresent and often represent Ari's subjective impression of the chaotic world around him. 

Ari is also a lover of music. His cherished mixtape, played through his Walkman, includes an eclectic list of songs (from Motown to disco) that relate to his dislocated identity.

In this clip, the clash between Ari’s cultural and sexual identity is conveyed through his traditional dance to the Greek village music known as Zembekiko (or Zeibekiko). Ari’s seemingly traditional performance has secret meanings that the audience are made aware of through events leading up to this scene.

Unlike the film’s audience, the club’s conservative patrons are oblivious and believe his dance to be an affirmation of their culture – at least until the arrival of Johnny (Paul Capsis), Ari’s Greek-Australian friend. Johnny makes a spectacular entrance dressed as Toula, his dead mother, shocking onlookers and embarrassing Ari.

Johnny's openness about his sexuality – conveyed through the disjunct between his appearance and performance to the traditional music – is a direct challenge to Ari, who knows he can get away with a lot if he passes as heterosexual. Johnny’s bravery cuts through Ari’s unspoken hypocrisy – making Ari run, in panic, lest his own secret life be exposed.

This scene demonstrates how music can take on different meanings depending on its placement and context. On the one hand, it symbolises culture and the conservativeness of that culture. When paired with the visual performance, it becomes a device to convey a subversion of, and rebellion against, that culture.