|Acknowledgement: Dora Stratou Dance Theatre, Greece.||
Portrait of the Greek Dance
Research: Anne Leonidou
| Regional Characteristics |
Epirus | Macedonia | Thrace
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 ideal.
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
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.
Lucien tells us that the Thessalians have such regard for dance that they name their eminent citizens pro-orchesteres or lead dancers.
Greece has 6 mainland regions: Epirus, Macedonia, Thrace, Thessaly, Central Greece and Peloponnesus. In addition, the Greek islands fall into the following categories. The Ionian islands between Greece and Italy which includes the island of Kithira south of Peloponnese, the Saronic islands near Athens, Cyclades occupying the central Aegean Sea, the North Aegean islands close to the West coast of Turkey, the Dodecanese islands, occupying the southeast of the Aegean, between Crete and Turkey, the Sporades which are a small cluster of islands near the island of Euboea, and Crete, the largest island which lies in the southern part of the Aegean Sea.
CENTRAL GREECE AND ROUMELI
The Ionian 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.
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 and Drepani.
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.
The music 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
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