Introduction to Hellenic (Greek) Dancing
Greek dancing is an incredibly old tradition that bonds Greek communities together. With roughly more than 4,000 different dances throughout the various 12 regions, it is impossible to learn all the variations and styles in a lifetime. Regions were formed by citizenry and islanders who performed, choreographed, and style their dancing with similarities and purpose, which were distinct from the other regions.
The Grecian Odyssey Dancers learn dances from all the various regions. Each year we research the various regions seeking a specific village or dance style within that region.
The regions we danced in 2020 were:
Aegean Islands Region
Chios is the fifth largest Greek island situated in the Aegean Sea. Chios is notable for its exports of mastic gum and has the nickname “The Mastic Island”. Chios is believed by some scholars to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus. He visited the island to obtain mapping material before his famous voyage leading to the discovery of America.
Chios dances are unique and distinct and rich with history.
Srytos – is a folk dance in which the dancers link hands to form a chain or circle, headed by a leader who intermittently breaks away to perform improvised steps. Aegean syrtos usually opens a performance. This syrtos is danced to the song of “ΜΕΣ ΤΟΥ ΑΙΓΑΙΟΥ ΤΑ ΝΗΣΙΑ” which is a ballot song by many of the islands within the Aegean Sea. It prays for the Virgin Mary to bring peace and calm to the Aegean Sea where the angels flutter and the roses scatter.
Ballos – Stin Agia Markella is a flirting dance in a ballos format. The melody of a ballos is generally joyous and lyrical which is typical of the music of the Aegean Islands. This couples' dance incorporates all the elements of courtship: attraction, flirtation, display of masculine prowess and feminine virtue, pursuit, and rejection followed by eventual capture and surrender. Its origin is in the island culture of Greece. Men could not approach women easily, so they created this dance in order to "flirt" with them.
Agia “Saint” Markella was born in Volissis, Chios. Fleeing the wrath of her pagan father she was mortally wounded, but legend has it her body was consumed by the island and that her blood spilled gave rise to the red nature of the dirt that is distinct to the island and its ability to grow the mastic trees.
Pirgousikos – It’s from the pyrgi village of Chios. It’s mainly danced during the Greek Halloween which is before the beginning of the Easter great lent. Dancing during this celebration lasted until morning hours. At times the unmarried girls joined the married one so the men of the village can notice them. Fathers tipped the band or “tsambounieri” so he can play all night so the girls can get a chance to be noticed
Trexados – after the pyrgousikos dance the night usually ended with an energetic trexatos dance with the young men leading it. Trexatos means “running”, and as such, features a high energy fast paced dance.
Armogos is the easternmost island of the Cyclades. While a small island with approximately 2,000 in population today, it played a significant role in the history of Greece. Three distinct cities served as ports that were the center of trade from the east and west. Armogos suffered at the hands of Turkish invaders, pirates, and other hardships along its shoreline. Primary settlements were built inland in fortresses to protect the people. The island was instrumental in the liberation of Greece during the War of Independence in 1821. After its independence was gained, many of the islanders moved to Athens to work as stone cutters, which they were famous for. This led to a decline in the population on the island. Now primarily a few small villages, the island leads a monastic lifestyle. In 1956 the island was nearly destroyed by an earthquake that created a 30-meter-high (about 85 feet) tsunami.
Syrtos – This dance style was originated in western Crete. Historians believe that Crete controlled and ruled the island for many years and instilled some of its customs to the people. Although no evidence can prove this claim to date, it is clear that the Crete people had an influence on the customs and practices of Armogos. None more evident than the Syrto.
Armogos Sousta – formerly a war dance, the sousta is a dance of love and passion. In Greek, “sousta” means spring, and this dance took its name from the springing movements in the dancers’ steps. The sousta originated and is more prolific in the Aegean Islands and Crete. As each island and region adapted some form of the sousta dance, each with their own variations, the dance became known as Sousta along with the name of the island or region in order to distinguish these variations.
Nikedre – this dance originated in Naxos, a neighboring island (of which our girls costumes are from), and was meant as a comical dance.
Ballos - The melody of ballos is joyous and lyrical, especially in the Aegean islands. This dance incorporates all the elements of courtship: attraction, flirtation, display of masculine prowess and feminine virtue, pursuit, and rejection, capture and surrender. Its origin is in the island culture of Greece. Men could not approach women easily, so they created this dance to “flirt” with them.
The Pontic migrants and earlier settlers had an influence in some eastern Crete communities in their language, music, and dance. The dances we will be performing from the various Eastern Crete regions will have a Pontic influence with their feet more grounded.
Siganos – comes with a number of tunes from the well-known "kantilies”. Most of these dances come from Lasithi and the eastern provinces of Heraklion, which is why Siganos is considered a dance of eastern Crete and especially of Lasithi administration and oversight. In Irakleio the dance is a 6-step dance compared to the 8-step dance in Rethymno (western Crete).
Kastrinos Pidictos – named from the Grand Castle as it was formerly called Heraklion. It is considered a remnant of the ancient Minoan war Pyrixiou dance and represents the efforts of the capture and defense of the Grand Castle at various points in its history.
Sousta – is the remnant of Crete's dance. In its original form it was danced from man to man before the battle. Around 300 AD the dance began to be danced by women as well and thus became erotic. It is even said that women's participation in the sousta was a social requirement of the time. It is said that Sousta was the main bridal dance; however, Srytos has become the more preferred bridal dance.
Prinianos – has its roots in eastern Crete and has been toned down today. it was danced mainly in the area of Ierapetra but also danced in the prefectures of Heraklion. Name derives maybe from the Prinia village. It is also know it as Brimianos because of a strong forward movement.
Ethianos – Another variation of the Cretan dance with its roots from ancient Pyrichio, the Kouretes war dance. It took its name from the village of Ethia of Asterousia where it was first introduced.
Pentozali – every step of the dance is the embodiment with the excessive blood and the vision of liberation and freedom. Every stroke of the foot is depicting the rifles and weapons of the Daskalogiannis Sfakianoi warriors throughout the centuries. The Pyrriihios of the Cretans is the pentozali. Just like that of the Pontians, like the ancient Pyrrhios are dances that now are danced to honor the memory of our heroes.
Epirote dances are the most slow and heavy in all of Greece. Great balance is required in order to perform these dances. Epirus has historically been a remote and isolated region due to its location between the Pindus mountains and the sea.
It was the brave men of Epiros that provided the first tactical victory of the Allies in World War II. This sparked the famous quote by Winston Churchill who stated, “Greeks don’t fight like heroes, heroes fight like Greeks.”
The dances in Epiros are often begun with a memorial to the fallen.
Tsamiko - is probably names for the Tsames in Epiros. Some say it is named after the clothes of the Klepthes, the mountain fighters in the Greek War of Independence. Men usually dance it, but certain versions can be danced with both men and women.
Pogonisios – The name of the dance comes from the region of Pogoni in Ioannina region, near the Albanian border. It is the most common dance pattern in Epiros and is a rhythm of many Greek dances. It is danced to many different lyrics, tunes, melodies in a pentatonic scale, and contains a standard 4/4 rhythm but is split in a 2-1-1 style, slow, quick, quick.
Zagorisios Konstantis – Zagori is located near the Albanian border and is a cluster of 46 settlements. The most popular song to dance Zagorisios to is Konstantis. This dance has a 5/4 rhythm unique and seldom heard outside Epiros. The Zagorisios is the most popular dance of the Zagori region in Epiros. This dance, due to the mountainous regions of Epiros is virtually left untouched and is consistently danced the same from village to village with very few and only minor variations.
Paramythia – legend has it that the women of Paramythia performed a slow circular folk-dance on the rocky cliffs of the Thesportian mountains where at the end the danced off the cliff one-by-one in defiance, rather to die than to be raped or taken captive.
Neratzia – is considered a “syrtaki” dance, a common name for a group of traditional Greek dances that feature a “dragging style” as opposed to a more hopping and leaping style.
Ionian Islands Region
June 23, 1953 in the Kefalonia village of Tarkasata the villagers gathered in the “Horostasi” to celebrate its tradition of Αϊ Γιάννη Λαμπαδιάρη, discarding of the May Wreaths made from the mountain wildflowers, into the village fire, while dancers and villagers jumped the flames, unknowingly for the last time. This was the village's last celebration. On August 12, 1953 the village was completely destroyed, and to this day lie in ruins, by the 1953 Ionian Earthquake.
Mermigas – a well known song from the island of Kefalonia. The song is often associated with migration and settlement, stemming from its roots of being brought to Kefalonia and adopted by its people.
Manetas – is a basket weave dance. There are two specific ways the line end looks during the choral separation, depending on the number of dancers. We will demonstrate both ways during our performance.
Divaratikos - we will perform the original version of the dance with less bounce and more reserved. The dance was originally more subdued, but as time went by, the dance became more and more bouncy and livier, in the tradition of Kefalonian dances, where the dancers were “performing” for their audience. We will demonstrate this variation of the dance towards its end. There are multiple different ways the steps are taken in Kefalonia for Divaratikos, depending on the region and area. We will perform the steps specific to the Pylaros region.
Blaxopoules – is very popular Kefalonia couple’s dance. As girls and boys weren’t allowed to interact, the dance was created and features an element where the boy draws the girl in close (where they would whisper to the girl something flirtatious, personal, etc…, and then back away twisting side-to-side to see if anyone saw them whisper to her.
Ballos - The melody of the Kefalonia Ballos is joyous and lyrical. This dance incorporates all the elements of courtship: attraction, flirtation, display of masculine prowess and feminine virtue, pursuit, and rejection, capture and surrender. The Pylaros version uses the simplest form of Ballos where single couple goes through a series of spontaneous figures to the fascination of the crowd and the other dancers. Generally, there is a single boy lead; however, there are times when it is appropriate to share this spotlight, which we will do in our dance version.
Thrace is a region of northeastern Greece. Dances from Thrace are predominantly circle dances where the men dance in the front of the line. Thracians prefer music and dance of a relatively quick and brisk tempo. The music of Thrace is characterized by the high pitched melody of the gaida (goatskin bagpipe) or clarinet and the constant steady drumming of the toumbeleki.
Stis Treis – introduced in Thrace in the early 1900’s when the newly formed Bulgarian government appointed a Bulgarian mayor for Topolovgard, which was made up of 96% Greeks. About 22,000 refugees left the town to settle in Greece bringing with them Stis Treis. Mainly performed in Kavakli N. Thraki . Hand movement forward and backwards while there is a movement to the right. In west Thraki is also called Tripatos it’s called “Stis Treis” which means “three step” due to the 3 step repetition in sets of 4.
Zonaradiko – Most popular and widespread dance in Thraki. Men are in the front and women follow. It can starts in a circle and while the enthusiasm builds up the “protoxoreutis” who is the lead dancer raises his right hand and begins the wrap in and out the line in a snail format until the dancer in end has to dance in an opposite direction. Fast dance with phonetic additions from the dancers. Historic references have the older men dancing this dance holding hand to belts (Zonari means belt) a king the snail format.
Xesyrtos - This dance was originally danced by women the second day of Pasha( Easter) as well as weddings. The girls arrived at the wedding bringing sweets and raki to each other. Fast movement with foot entirely on the ground. Tradition mentions in Thraki that at times this fast dance was performed late night at weddings in order to encourage the guests who have been drinking to go home after celebrating at the wedding for 3 days.
Baidoushka – Before the liberation of northern Greece and southern Bulgaria from Turkish control, dances passed back and forth between the Greeks and the Bulgarians quite often. Baidoushka spread not to Greek Macedonia and Thrace but as far north as Romania. In Bulgaria, baidoushka describes a class of dances much like “pidikhto” or “syrto” in Greece. The meaning of the name is uncertain but is probably from the Bulgarian word for “limping”. The name maybe derived from the word “baitak” which means limping without a defect. The word has a Slavik derivative.
Syngathistos - The Syngathistos dance is indicative of a dance form found in the northern provinces of Greece—Epirus, Macedonia, and Thrace—and each with its own distinctive styling. It is called Syngathisto due to a particular movement in its styling which resembles a “sitting” step, and Syngathisto in Greek means “with sitting.” It originated from a nomadic tribe and is symbolic of them wandering and searching to feed their herds.