Posted by Christos on Friday, February 18, 2005

When folk dance groups perform in public displays, they are putting on a show, with the aim of pleasing the spectators. Although they may be performing traditional dances, to traditional music, they are playing a part, playing the role of ordinary villagers. Often they wear costumes, old-fashioned clothes that are not theirs, nor what they normally wear.

Obviously, they want to put on a good show, and so they follow a pre-planned and rehearsed routine, which they have usually been taught by a teacher or choreographer. Thus, every time they perform a particular dance, they do exactly the same steps and figures, in the same order, and even the same variations!

Ordinary Greeks, however, who dance for pleasure in tavernas and at panegyria, dance their own dances, and wear their own clothes. They are dancing for their own purposes, rather than for spectators. They dance for their own satisfaction, their own pleasure. They do not have to follow a set routine; they can dance to express their feelings, creating their own steps and figures. When there are a number of people dancing together, it is a group creation and expression.

Syrtos with the Mandili
Posted by Christos on Monday, February 14, 2005

The Syrtos in Lesvos - often called the Ballos or Syrtoballos - is a dance in 2/4 time. It takes various forms, usually being danced by a couple - traditionally two men or two women, as a man would not normally dance with a woman who was not his wife or other close relative.

In this picture it is being danced "with the Mandili", a large handkerchief or headscarf, by three men in Agra. They each hold the Mandili with one hand, dancing the usual Syrtos steps (SLOW-quick-quick) as they circle round.

"Authentic" Dancing?
Posted by Christos on Wednesday, February 02, 2005

I have been interested in Greek folk dance for years. When I went to Lesvos, I decided that I would learn to do the island's folk dances.

Wherever there were local dancing events, I went along to watch, usually taking my video camcorder with me, and when I got the chance, I joined in the dancing. Watching the dancing displays put on by schools and dance groups, I quickly learnt the steps that had been taught by the dance teachers.

But were these really 'authentic'? I wondered. I set about trying to find places where the older people danced to traditional music. They were not so easy to find! And when I found them, the dances seemed to be different from those done by the dancing groups. Were these dances 'authentic'?

After watching two dancers who were dancing particularly well to traditional music, I asked one of them what dance they had been doing. The man looked a bit surprised. "We were just dancing," he said.

Clearly they thought they had been making up the dance as they danced it! It was their own dance!

Since then I have found other dancers like this. I have given up asking them what dance it is. Sometimes they answer "Syrtos" or "Karsilamas" or "Pedhechtos", or even "A mixture of Karsilamas and 'Bam'," knowing that that is the kind of answer I am expecting, but it is often clear that they do not really know what these different names mean. They do not think of dancing in this way. They are simply dancing!

Afterwards, looking at my videos, I can see that the dancers are in fact repeating certain patterns of movement, steps and figures. But the dancers themselves are not aware of this. When I asked one dancer to show me how to do a dance, she said: "Listen to the music, and move your body." I doubt if she could have told me (or taught me) the 'right' steps as they are taught by dancing teachers!

The dancers may not know the NAME of the dance, or that they are doing it, but nevertheless the dance does exist, and it IS both 'authentic' and 'traditional'. Their BODIES remember the dance as they did it when they were young, as it was handed down to them. There is no point in asking them to explain, to teach, to put it into WORDS. Words will distort. Even asking them to SHOW you will lead them to distort the dance for your benefit, simplifying, exaggerating the movements.

The only way is to find these older dancers, to see them dancing, for their own purposes, when they are not conscious of your watching. Try to imagine being them, doing their dance. Imagine being in their bodies. It may be possible to catch them on video, if they are not aware of the camera. I wish there were more videos of older dancers dancing like this!

Christopher H. Copeman (27th November 2002)


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