Posted by Christos on Sunday, August 28, 2005

Older people in the village tell me that fifty years ago the boys and the girls used to dance separately. The girls used to dance together at home, privately, in the yard or garden, while the boys would dance more publicly, in the Square or Taverna. Girls did not usually dance in public, except at panegyria, when they would go to the Square with their families.

It was therefore only at Panegyria that you would see boys and girls dancing together, and even then, there were strict rules about it. Generally, the dancing would be done in family groups, so that girls would be dancing with boys who were in the same family. Sometimes family friends and guests might be invited to join the family group.

Nowadays, of course, the rules are more relaxed, and one often sees mixed groups of young friends dancing together, as in the photograph. Many of the young people in the photograph are villagers who live and work in other places, but who have come back to the village for the summer holidays, sometimes bringing other ways of dancing with them. In Lesvos it is unusual to see so many people dancing Syrtos in one group; it is more often danced by couples and family groups.

In Lesvos, most of the dances done are face-to-face dances - Zeibekika and Karsilamades - where there is no physical contact between the dancers. Zeibekiko used to be regarded as a men's dance, and women would not normally dance it in public - though apparently they often did it in the privacy of their homes! It was acceptable for women to dance Karsilamas in public at panegyria. Syrtos was a dance for both men and women, dancing with family members, and Kalamatianos was danced mainly by women. Nowadays women feel free to dance most dances - even the Tsifteteli, once regarded as a dance only for Turkish harem girls!

The old traditions and constraints continue to have an influence, however, especially in the matter of who dances with whom. People still prefer to dance with family and friends, and a married woman is still shy about dancing with a man who is not her husband. Most dancing today (especially Syrtos and Kalamatianos) is done by women dancing with women. Men will dance a Syrtos with their wife or fiancee or with a male friend. The Zeibekiko is still predominantly a dance for men, either danced in the old way by two men face-to-face, or as a solo dance, where one man dances alone, supported by clapping from his friends crouching around him.

The social undertones of a dance are largely ignored when it is performed by a school or club dance group. The teacher or choreographer usually decides who will dance with whom, irrespective of relationship. In face-to-face dances the pairs are arranged in two lines, with girls facing boys, dancing synchronised steps and figures. It can be argued that this improves the overall effect for spectators, but much of the attractiveness of the face-to-face dances comes from the interplay between the two dancers in the pair. In performances where the pairs of dancers are in lines, the attention of the dancers is focussed (often far too obviously) on keeping in step with the other pairs in the line.


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