TEACHING GREEK DANCE
IN THE DIASPORA
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the Greek Dance
Research: Anne Leonidou
MA Greek Folk Dance Education
| Regional Characteristics |
Epirus | Macedonia | Thrace
| Roumeli | Peloponnese | Aegean
Islands | Dodecanese |
Islands | Crete |
| Cyprus | Pontus
| Cappadocia |
Constantinople | Smyrna |
Greece is one of the few
countries in the world where folk dances are as alive today as they
were in ancient times. Dance has always played an important role in the
life of a Greek. It is an expression of human feelings and everyday
life. The Greeks danced at religious festivals, ceremonies; they danced
to ensure fertility; to prepare for war and to celebrate victories; they
danced at weddings; to overcome depression and to cure
physical illness. Almost every dance has a story to tell. Dance was
regarded as one of the highest forms of art. Plato agreed with his mentor
Socrates that every educated man should know how to dance gracefully by
which he meant the manly exercises that kept the body strong and supple
and ready to do its duty on the battlefield. The Pyrrhic, or weapon dance
(a form of mock combat) taken from Crete and perfected in Sparta, was the
The dance, of all the arts, is the one
that most influences the soul. Dancing is divine in its nature and is the
gift of the gods. Plato
dance continues to be passed from generation to generation, which in
turns maintains national identity. Folklore is the term used
for traditional dance when performed out of its traditional social
context. The principal characteristic of folklore dance is that it
is not transmitted in a traditional manner but by a process
involving dance teachers and gym instructors.
6th century B.C.
There are two distinct categories in the
traditional Greek dance; the springing/leaping dance and the
shuffle/dragging dance known as sirtos; the latter being the oldest
form of dance. Most dances are circle dances, start with the right foot
and move counter-clockwise. Each dancer is linked by a
handkerchief or by holding hands, wrists or shoulders. In mixed dances,
the man will lead the dance, which allows him in most regions to improvise or break away allowing him to express himself. Until
recently, men and women rarely danced together although chains of men and
women danced together at the same time, the women in the inner circle and
the men in the outer circle. The order of dance varies from region to
region. In general, the men are commonly at the beginning in descending
order of age, followed by the women also ranked according to seniority.
Sometimes the married men come before the bachelors and likewise for the
women. The oldest inhabitant always leads the dance. In the islands the
circle is usually formed of groups of families, the husband leads the wife
who is followed by the eldest son, his wife and their children etc.
Occasionally the local priest will lead the first dance symbolising a
blessing. In olden times a man never held a woman’s hand but a kerchief.
This also applied to married couples. In some regions a woman could not
dance next to a man who was not family: therefore a child or an elderly
would be placed in between. Most women's dances are slow, simple and
dignified whereas the men’s dances often portray their manhood.
||In ancient times, dance was held in high
regard in particular for its educational properties. Dance was essential
for developing personality as well as preparing for battle.
Dance along with music, writing and physical exercise, was the basis of the
educational system. In major cities/kingdoms of Ancient Greece, men were
taught to dance. According to Athenaeus in Arcadia, the expenses were met
from the civic purse and pupils staged an annual display of their
accomplished skills which all citizens attended.
Lucien tells us that the
Thessalians have such regard for dance that they name their eminent
citizens pro-orchesteres or lead dancers.
Epirus lies between the Pindus Mountains and the Ionian Sea. It was
formally united with Greece in 1913 although Northern Epirus became
part of the new state of Albania. It is especially rich in folk
music. It’s rugged, mountainous and the steep gorges impose heavy
garments and boots. A unique characteristic of the region is the
polyphonic singing. Dances from Epirus tend to be slow, heavy and
danced with immense dignity. Their main instrument is the clarinet.
Dances of this area include Sta Tria, Pogonisios, Sta Dyo, Vasilo
Arhontissa, Yiatros, Kalamatianos, Tsamikos, Zagorisios, Koftos,
Fisouni, Kentimeni Podia, Berati and Fezodervenayas.
Macedonia was formally united with Greece in 1913. It stretches from the
north east on the Aegean coast across to the North West to the
Pindus Mountains. This mountainous area with small valleys has a
particularly rich folk culture. The variety is to some extent due to
its geographical position where it borders with the Balkan
The traditional band,
the ‘ziyia’, is made up of two zournas and a daouli or one bagpipe (gaida)
and one daouli. Dances of this area include Gaida, Beratis,
Leventikos, Sta Tria, Akritikos, Baidouska, Kastorianos, Nizamikos,
Syre Syre, Boimitsa, and Mikri Eleni.
Thrace is sub-divided into
three areas; Western Thrace which was united with Greece in
1923, Eastern Thrace which lies in present day Turkey and
Bulgaria extending to the Black Sea and Marmara and Northern
Thrace in the south east of Bulgaria as far as the Black Sea.
Thrace is particularly rich in dancing with a wide variety of hand
hold positions. Their dances are generally lively and energetic and
tend to lack improvisation by the leader. The instruments common to
this region are the bagpipe (gaida), tabor (drum) and the lyre.
Dances from this area include Zonaradikos, Tsestos, Baintouska,
Syngathistos, Stis Treis, Mantilatos and Xisyrtos.
Thessaly was united with Greece in 1881. This is mainly fertile
plains for farming. Their dances have parallels with those of
Epirus. Thessaly retains a strong tradition of song-dances where the
dancers sing the music, often without instrumental accompaniment.
Instruments common to this region are the clarinet, violin, lute and
defi (tambourine). The zournas and gaida were more common in the
past especially in the areas bordering Macedonia. The dances are
generally slow and dignified which include Sta Tria, Sta Dyo,
Kalamatianos, Kleistos, Svarniara, Karagouna and Tai-Tai.
CENTRAL GREECE AND ROUMELI
area of central Greece is also referred to as Sterea Ellada or
Roumeli. Roumelian dances have a tendency to be slow and controlled.
The clarinet is the main instrument in this region and in older
times, the zourna and daouli. The main dances of this region are
Tsamikos, Kalamatianos, Sta Tria, Sta Dyo, Kleistos, Mazochtos and
Peloponnesus also known as Morea is the cradle of modern Greece. It
was here in 1821 that the struggle began to free Greece from the
Ottoman rule and is the oldest part of modern Greece as we know it
today. Instruments used are the violin, clarinet, lute and santouri.
Their main dances are Kalamatianos, Tsamikos, Tsakonikos and
||The music of these islands is very
delightful and lyrical and as such portrayed in its dances. These are
characterised by the lightness of steps and the springing in the
knees. Most frequently
danced are Ballos, Sirtos, Hasapikos, Karsilamas, Sousta, Trata, Stavrotos, Chiotikos and Ikariotikos.
Saronic islands include Salamis, Aegina, Poros and Angistri. Dances
of these islands include Syrtos, Ballos, Koulouriatikos and Trata.
refers to the islands that encircle (κυκλός)
the sacred island of Delos. The Cyclades islands include Amorgos,
Delos, Kythnos, Mykonos, Naxos, Paros, Santorini, Serifos, Sifnos, Syros
and Tinos. The music of these islands is very delightful and lyrical and
as such portrayed in its dances characterised by the lightness of steps
and the springing in the knees. Dances include Syrtos, Ballos, Sousta
The North Aegean islands are a number of disconnected islands in the
north Aegean Sea also known as the Northeast Aegean islands. These
islands include Chios, Ikaria, Fourni, Lesvos and Samos. The music
of these islands is very delightful and lyrical and as such
portrayed in its dances. The main instruments are the violin, lute
and the santouri and occasionally the oud. Dances include Syrtos,
Ballos, Sousta, Tripatos Pyrgousikos, Ikariotikos Haniotikos,
Lerikos and Karsilamas.
Sporades islands include Skiathos and Skopelos. Dances from these
islands include Syrtos, Ballos, Sousta and Karsilamas.
Dodecanese meaning the twelve islands include Rhodes, Kos, Patmos, Kalimnos, Karpathos,
Leros, Nisyros and Tilos. These islands were under Italian rule between
1923 and 1944, then under British rule between 1944 and 1947. In 1948
they were finally reunited with Greece. They have a rich musical
tradition and their dances were influenced by the Cretans who
immigrated, fleeing from the Turks. This probably explains why their
main instrument was the lyre. The violin became popular accompanied by
the santouri and in some cases replaced the lyre although the lyre is
now having a major comeback. Dances from this area include Syrtos,
Ballos, Roditikos, Lerikos, Sirba, Haniotikos and Sousta.
Islands also known as Eptanisia, meaning the seven islands were reunited
with Greece in1864. Their music was highly influenced by Italy with main
instruments being the guitar, violin and lute and in recent times, the
mandolin; with the exception of Lefkada where the traditional clarinet
was popular due to the short distance which separated them from mainland
Greece and in particular, Epirus. The people from Corfu are particularly
musical and famous for their ‘kantades’. The dances are graceful,
flirtatious and sometimes with swaying movement. Dances from these
islands include Syrtos, Ballos, Ai Yiogis, Fourlana, Rouga,
Korakianitikos,Thiakos and Tsirigotikos.
is the largest Greek Island and the fifth largest in the
Mediterranean. It was reunited with Greece in 1913. Throughout
history, this race is renowned for its heroism and is reflected in
their dances which are dynamic and fast. Each Cretan dance gives the
opportunity for a dancer to lead and improvise. A particular
characteristic of the Cretan dances is the springing movement of the
dancers. The Cretan lyre is the most distinctive instrument on this
island. Their dances include Syrtos, Siganos, Pentozalis,
Maleviziotikos, Laziotikos, Rodo, Apanomeritis, Zervodexos and
Cyprus is an island in the far Mediterranean Sea with the majority of its
inhabitants of Greek origin, language, culture and traditions (82%). Due
to its strategic position in the Mediterranean, it was invaded by many
nations, namely, the Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Arabs, Franks,
Venetians and Turks. It was a British colony between 1878 and 1959 and
finally became independent in 1960. Its music and dance are quite
distinctive. Up until the middle of the 19th century, the
typical instruments were the shepherd’s flute and a small tambour. Then
the familiar bands of the islands consisting of the violin and the lute
made their introduction into the urban centres finally making their way
to the villages. Following the Asia Minor Fires, refugees settled in the
urban areas bringing with them their songs which were embraced and
modified by the Cypriot people. The Cypriot dances are firmly separated
into men’s and women’s usually danced in pairs or separately; with the
exception being the last part of the women’s Karsilamas which is danced
in a circle. Their dances are Karsilamas, Syrtos, Zeimbekikos, Datcha
Pontus lies in the region of present day Turkey on the eastern Black Sea
into Russia; an area inhabited by Greeks from ancient times until
the population exchange in 1923. Pontiac music and dance are quite
distinctive. Its music and dance is easily recognised by its nervous
energy, their use of knee bends and unusual shoulder tremors, unique
to Pontus. The Pontiac lyre is the most distinctive instrument.
Other instruments include the angion (bagpipe) and the zournas. The
dances of this area include Omal, Dipat, Tik, Kotsari, Kots, Trygona,
Kotsari and Serra.
Cappadocia lies in present day central Turkey which was an important
centre of Byzantium and the home to St Basil and St Gregory. It was
one of the first areas to fall under the Ottoman Empire. The
Cappadocians remained there until the population exchange in 1923.
They have a tradition of ritual line dances closely associated with
the church calendar, e.g. Ayio Vasiliatikos. The other well known
dances are the Dance of the Scarves, the Spoons, Seïtata
Constantinople, the capital city of the Roman, Byzantine, Latin, and
the Ottoman empires was founded in 324 AD at ancient Byzantium as the
new capital of the Roman Empire by Constantine the Great, after whom it
was named, and dedicated on 11 May 330. By 12th century the city was the
largest and wealthiest European city.
The fall of
Constantinople in the historic battle of 1453 saw the beginning of the
Ottoman Empire, now, present day Turkey. It remains the seat of the
Patriarch of Constantinople. The music and dances from Constantinople
have travelled all around the Greek world. It was here that the popular
dance Hasapikos originated. Other dances include Syrtos, Ballos,
Karsilamas and Zeimbekikos.
Smyrna was an
important financial and cultural city up until its destruction by the Great
Fire in1922. Many Greeks moved to Greece and the islands bringing with them
their music and dances. Many well known melodies from the Greek islands
originated from Smyrna. Dances include Syrtos, Ballos, Zeimbekikos,
Karsilamas and Hasapikos.
of the coastal regions was largely influenced by Smyrna but also has strong
island influences especially in Erythrea,
Vithymia, Artaki, Aeolis, Aivali, Pergamos, Alatsata, Silivri and the
island of Imvros