“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
The Cornerstone of Greek Cultural Identity
Greece would not be Greece without its’ dances and folk dances are as alive and surprisingly unchanged today as they were in the ancient world. Dance is a very important part of Greek life as it is an expression of spirit. Our dance also helps us to maintain our cultural and national identity as it is passed from generation to generation.
Every Dance Has A Story To Tell
Greeks danced for many reasons. They danced for fertility, to prepare for war, to celebrate victories and to attract a mate. Sometimes they even danced to overcome depression and cure an illness. Today we dance at religious festivals and ceremonies. One aspect of the dance has remained constant for over 3000 years and that is that in every dance there is a story – a story of life, a story of loss or a story of love and this is what makes the dance so enchanting to watch.
Let The Chain Remain Unbroken
Most dances are performed in circles and move counter-clockwise. Each dancer is linked by their hands or shoulders with the lead dancer holding a handkerchief. There are three categories of dance; the leaping dances, the shuffle/dragging dances known as sirtos which is the oldest form and the couple dance.
There are over 4000 traditional dances that come from all regions of Greece and each region has a distinct and characteristic choreography which symbolizes each area’s unique personality.
Two very characteristic dances that I personally love are the Ballos, danced on the Aegean islands, and the Pentozali which is danced on the island of Crete.
Catch Me If You Can
Ballos is a couples dance and since the dancers face each other it allows for considerable improvisation in the steps allowing them to perform all manner of turns and independent movements. The dance symbolizes the male chasing the female as the man attempts to catch his partner. With its fluid and graceful movements it is one of the most beautiful of Greek dances and is pure joy both to watch and to dance.
The Ultimate War Dance
The Pentozalis of Crete is a fast paced war dance with high jumping. It takes its name from the five (pente) steps and “zalos” which is a rare Greek word for jump. The dancers, usually male, hold each other by the shoulders and form an incomplete circle. The dance begins slowly and accelerates progressively until it reaches an incredibly fast and rigorous rhythm. The dancers must possess endurance and skill with the dancers showing improvisation and sometimes engaging in acrobatics. For me the dance embodies the heart and soul of Crete.
Realize the Greek In You
While in Greece this summer don’t miss the opportunity to witness at least one Greek dance at one of the many summer religious festivals “panyigyria”. And why not indulge your “happy feet” and join the circle. You will go home at least 10% Greek.