Syrtaki - Greek National Dance?

Syrtaki - Greek National Dance?

Syrtaki (συρτάκι) is considered an integral part of Greek symbolic and believed to be a Greek folk dance. Although this dance nowadays is willingly danced in Greece, it turns out, that there is a mistaken belief about its origins.

The famous syrtaki or the melody of Zorba`s dance was composed by the great Greek composer Miki Theodoraki (Μίκης Θεοδωράκης, 1925) for the needs of the screen version of the novel "Zorba the Greek". The film "Zorba the Greek" (1964) starring Mexican - American actor Anthony Quinn as the title character won three Oscars and got three or four Oscar nominations, while the syrtaki melody and dance became one of the most popular tourist entertainment elements in Greece.

dance, Greece, syrtaki, Zorbadance, Greece, syrtaki, Zorba

Excerpt from the movie

The classic novel of Nikos Kazantzakis (Νίκος Καζαντζάκης , 1883-1957) about the proud Cretan Zorba vividly shows how much dance and dancing means to Greeks.

dance, Greece, syrtaki, Zorba

Each village in every region of Greece has its own deity and in each village a great festival is held each year to honour this deity that lasts for several days, sometimes weeks. During this time people eat, drink, sing and, of course, dance a lot.

The majority of Greek dances is characterised by the dancers standing in a row one after another and taking the right hand of the dancer on the left with their left hand (the palm is upward) and giving their right hand (the palm is downward) to the dancer on the right.  Partner dances are not so common. There are dances that are danced only by men or women.  Since it was unacceptable that a woman's ankle is visible during the dance, women's dances are usually slow and without sudden moves.

During celebrations almost all the villagers stood in such a row to dance through the village and the surrounding area. The dance was always led by a man, usually a village elder, who also determined the sequence of the dance. The leaders of the dance were replaced in the course of time; they were chosen by a variety of criteria and depended on the particular case. Sometimes for a chance to lead the dance and show the ability of shaping figures one had to pay, sometimes this honour had to be earned through hard work. Often men fought with their fists for the opportunity to be in the front of the row.

Different regions of Greece have different rules by which the dancers settle in a row, it also depends on the particular dance. In the Epirus region of Northwest Greece, where the dancing traditions are still very strongly respected and maintained, first in the row come married men - oldest first, then youngest; then come the oldest unmarried men to the youngest unmarried; then come women in the same order - from the oldest married to the youngest unmarried and children come at the very beginning - first the oldest, then - the youngest.

dance, Greece, syrtaki, Zorbadance, Greece, syrtaki, Zorba

There are five major dances that are danced always and mostly always in this order:  1) syrtos, 2) balos, 3) karsilamas, 4) zeibekikos, 5) hasaposervikos.

Syrtos(Συρτός ) is common in every region of Greece in various forms and its steps are in the basis of other Greek dances (Syrtaki is a diminutive of Syrtos). The dancer moves anti-clockwise, taking a step sideways with the right foot and then with the left foot - depending on the form - a step ahead or behind, followed by two more sidesteps to the right, gently, as if swaying, bending the knees. Balos is an erotic dance; it is a partner dance and it is believed that this dance imitates the movements of pigeons` mating-ritual.

Zeibekikosis a dance that used to be performed only by men and it symbolises a man`s courage. The dance is very slow, thus the performance requires agility and endurance. The greatest dancers were able to perform zebeikikos in a very narrow area (often on a chair) and accompanied by a very slow music.

In a wedding the groom danced through the whole village accompanied by music and the villagers presented him with gifts. This tradition is still alive even nowadays, when the young couple has chosen to celebrate their wedding in accordance with Greek folk traditions.

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