Thursday is International Dance Day — and how better to celebrate than by discovering five of the most popular Greek dances!
Greek dances for every occasion
Dancing, (or “horos”), has held a very important place in Greek culture for thousands of years.
Over time it has evolved to suit the needs of different groups of Greeks, who have made their own dances, leading to great regional diversity in this most physically expressive of the arts.
Dances are extremely important to Greek communities, and perform a social function as well: you will often see Greeks spontaneously (or not!) burst into dance at weddings, Greek Easter, or school functions.
One of the most unique and visually striking Greek dances is the zeibekiko. Zeibekiko originated in Asia Minor, and the legacy of tragic displacement and of a homeland lost certainly lives on through this dance.
It is difficult to dance the zeibekiko, mainly because it has no set steps, no particular rhythm. It requires an inner intensity, because it is an improvised movement that expresses the feelings of the individual who gets up to dance.
This meaningful dance often conveys feelings of defeat, of sadness, life’s despair and unfulfilled dreams, the bad luck you see coming, and the dark at the end of the tunnel.
Zeibekiko is performed solo and was traditionally exclusively to be danced by males, but women have begun to take part in this expressive movement as well, breaking gender roles.
The Pentozalis is one of the most iconic dances of Crete. Danced with arms atop the shoulders of the next person in line, it features high leaps and plenty foot stomping to get the blood going.
The hasapiko, whose name translates to “the butcher’s dance,” finds its origins in Constantinople. This Greek dance has lots of history, as it can be traced all the way back to the Middle Ages!
Originally, it was a mime of battle performed with swords by Greek butchers, although over time it has evolved to be an extremely popular dance with Greeks from all walks of life.
There are both slow and fast versions of the hasapiko which can be performed, but a particularly challenging version of the dance is traditional on the island of Mykonos.
The Mykonean hasapiko is a much more difficult variation of the widely popular Greek dance, with more difficult dance moves.
A video of 400 people dancing the challenging Mykonean hasapiko is shown below:
The Sirtaki is a newer Greek dance, and is technically a choreographed version of the hasapiko dance shown above.
The sirtaki was choreographed by Giorgios Provias for the 1964 film “Zorba the Greek” and therefore can also be referred to as Zorba’s dance.
The Sirtaki is a group dance and is performed with all dancers holding each other by the shoulders in either a line or a circle formation. The more traditional version of Sirtaki is danced in a line.
The Kalamatianos is one of the most well known and popular dances in Greece. It is performed with all the dancers holding hands in a circle and moving counterclockwise.
One of the distinctive elements of the Kalamatianos is that the lead dancer does not hold the second dancer by the hand; instead, they hold either side of a handkerchief.
This is in order to improve the mobility of the lead dancer, so that they can perform the particularly elaborate steps generally expected of them!
This Greek dance is a faster one and is generally performed to express happiness and joy.
A video of the kalamatianos being performed in traditional dress is below:
The serra is a Pontic Greek dance. It is named after the Serra River, in the Trapezunda (Trebizond) region of modern-day Turkey. It is also sometimes referred to as the Lazikon dance.
It was originally created by Greeks from the Pontus area of the Black Sea. As is the case with most Pontic dances, the serra originated as a war dance, and would have traditionally been used to motivate soldiers before entering battle.
The serra is traditionally performed by men, holding hands throughout the dance.
As is the case with most Pontic dances, it is usually accompanied by music from the Pontic lyra.