Cretan Dance

Cretan Folk Dance

Do not be surprised if, whilst musicians are playing the lyra and laóuto in the taverna where you are eating, someone just jumps up and performs a dance on their own, completely oblivious of everything else. Call it ‘making a spontaneous statement to the world’! It happened once when I was having dinner, and I was told that, for Cretans, dance is an expression of their mood, a way to express delight, but also to work off anger or to express sadness, and so it’s perfectly normal to stand up in the middle of dinner and just dance.

Equally, someone may pull a few friends to their feet, possibly not without a fair bit of good-natured jostling and coercion. In a moment, an unspoken message passes between dancers and musicians, a line forms, and everyone begins to move in time to the rhythm. This dance is called Sirtós, and there are a few variations all over Greece and Crete. For example, there is a variety known as Haniotikós, named after the city of Hania. Cretan dances tend to be predominantly the domain of men, but both men and women take part in the Sirtós, all joined hand in hand and taking their cue from a leader. The steps are small, the movements delicate, and the line moves slowly in an open circle. If this happens in the middle of dinner and you’re tempted, you are welcome to join in! (If the mental image reminds you of a certain movie, it may be because this dance inspired the composer Mikis Theodorakis to devise a Syrtáki especially for Anthony Quinn, in the film ‘Zorba the Greek’.)

A dance which inevitably requires men and women is the Soústa, which takes its name from the noise made by the dancer’s feet rubbing together. This is a dance that represents a promise of love, and so it’s often performed at weddings. I thought this was rather sweet!

There’s also the Pentozális (quite famous in Crete), which is an all-male dance, and rather impressive. The men link up in a line, clasping shoulders or hands: at first, their upper bodies remain rigid and only their feet move. Then, the first dancer in the row will suddenly slap his heels, break away from the line, and begin to leap high into the air; the next in line will follow, and so on. It’s said that this vigorous dance originated during the Minoan period, and indeed it may have been a kind of war-dance. Legend says it was performed by the Couretes, guardians of the baby Zeus in the cave on Mount Ida! The acrobatics in it are said to graphically picture the fierce, extrovert and untamed spirit of the Cretan mountains.

If you would like to see a performance of traditional Cretan dances, or would like to be informed of festivals where you can appreciate traditional dances, contact Karma Travel!

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