Dora Stratou was born in 1903 in Athens. Her mother, Maria Koromila, was the daughter of the playwright (“The Lover of the Shepherdess” and “Maroula’s Fate”) and journalist Dimitrios Koromilas, from an old Athenian family. Her father was Nikolaos Stratos, a lawyer from the village Loutro in the Etoloakarnania region. She grew up in the upper-class urban environment of Athens at the beginning of the century. She went to Palace Balls, studied foreign languages and singing, and befriended the offspring of powerful families. Her piano teacher was Dimitri Mitropoulos, later the famous conductor of the New York Philharmonic.
She followed theatrical performances and concerts, a passion she maintained throughout her life. Nikolaos Stratos, as a member of Parliament, was Minister of the Interior in the cabinet of Dimitrios Rallis and subsequently joined the Liberal Party of Eleftherios Venizelos, becoming Minister of the Navy. In 1913, he crossed over to the Royalist Party and served as Prime Minister for a few days after the Asia Minor Disaster of 1922. For this, he was sentenced to high treason and executed. Her mother, together with Dora and her younger brother Andreas, left Greece. After a life of wealth, they found themselves suddenly on the threshold of poverty when their property was confiscated.
Young Dora was traumatized by the execution of her father and the subsequent public humiliation. She spent the next ten years abroad – Berlin, Paris, New York – with her mother. They returned to Greece in 1932. Her brother Andreas had studied law and was elected as a member of Parliament. Dora began to mix with the new crop of intellectuals of the inter-war period. She was twice married and divorced. During the Occupation (of World War II) she took an active part in the philanthropic works of the archbishopric. She assisted the later famous director Karolos Kuhn in the administration of his “Arts Theater”.
In 1952 she saw by chance the 100-member national folk ensemble of Yugoslavia which was touring Europe featuring folk dances, music, and costumes of its country. It was something of a revelation for the Athenian public. At that time in Greece there were very few performing groups, among them the pioneering one of the Lyceum of Greek Women, performing only two or three times a year, dressed in the urban Amalia costume. Their primary aim was to satisfy their own dancers, young Athenian girls of good families. George Megas, a university professor of folklore, suggested the establishment of a national ensemble in Greece. Dora Stratou then asked Sophocles Venizelos, vice-president of the government, to approve financial assistance.
The idea was to establish a permanent professional ensemble capable of daily performances and tours abroad. It would have a large repertoire, a rich wardrobe from many Greek regions, and a program designed to attract audiences. And so, the “Greek Dances – Dora Stratou” society was created. She was befriended and had helped many upcoming artists and intellectuals – now she could benefit from their advice and assistance. To mention but a few: painter Spiros Vasileiou, composer Manos Hatzidakis, painter Yannis Tsarouhis, musicologist Foivos Anorgheianakis, musicologist Simon Karas, painter Giannis Moralis, poet Odisseas Elitis, folklorist Nestoras Matsas, writer Alekos Lidorikis, actor Dimitris Horn, folklrist Dimitris Loukatos, costume folklorist Angeliki Hatzimihali, pianist Gina Bachauer.
At the age of 50, she began this exhausting task with a passion. The first costumes were made by painter Yannis Tsarouhis, who also painted embroidery designs on them by hand. She toured villages to collect dances, songs, costumes, and folk jewelry, thus amassing the biggest collection in Greece. She selected the best dancers and instrumentalists to staff the ensemble. They gave successful performances in 21 countries. In 1963, Constantine Karamanlis ordered the construction of a special theater for the ensemble on the hillside of Filopappou.
In 1967, during the military regime, Dora Stratou was arrested for hiding the fugitive newspaper publisher Christos Lambrakis in her home. Melina Mercouri created an uproar abroad and succeeded in having Dora Stratou released. In the same year, Dora Stratou was awarded the most prestigious international distinction, the World Theater Award, as well as the Academy of Athens Award and a Ford Foundation grant. She authored three books “A Tradition, an Adventure”, “Greek Dances, a Living Link to the Antiquity”, and “Traditional Greek Dances”. She issued one of the largest series of folk music in the world: 50 records. In 1983 she retired due to ill health. She passed away in January 1988.