the traditional dances of crete l.
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the traditional dances of crete
  • About twenty traditional dances are included in the living heritage of dance in Crete. Of these, today, some are widely danced all over Crete, and others are purely local. In the first category we have the “sousta of Rethymno”, the “siganos”, the “maleviziotis” or “kastrinos pidichtos”, the “Chaniotikos syrtos” and the “pentozali”. It should be noted, however, that these dances too, prior to 1930, used to be confined to certain regions. To be more precise, the “sousta of Rethymno” was known in the county of the same name, the “maleviziotis” in the county of Heraclion, and the “Chaniotikos syrtos” and the “Pentozali” in the county of Chania.
The “sousta of Rethymno”, the love dance of Crete, which is danced by one or more couples facing each other, contains numerous elements of the ancient pyrrichios. The basic steps of the dance, which resemble small jumps and make the dancers’ bodies move as if propelled by springs, were probably the reason that the dance, during the Venetian occupation (1204-1669) was given the name “sousta”, from the Italian word “susta” which means spring or coil.
  •             The contemporary Cretan syrtos, generally known as “Chaniotikos syrtos”, is said to have evolved, possibly through the transformation of the steps of an older syrtos dance, in the mid-18th century in the province of Kissamos, Chania. We should note that the dance was also used, according to ancient customs, as a necessary means of expression and encouragement in cases of war.  Tradition says that the music accompanying the Chaniotikos syrtos is based on two melodies, which had been composed, in keeping with this ancient custom, by Cretan warriors – the last defendants of Constantinople – in 1453, and carried back to Crete by the survivors. The first music rendition of the dance is attributed to the violinist from Lousakies, Kissamos, Stefanos Triantafilakis or Kioros. The Chaniotikos syrtos spread to the rest of Crete during the period between the two World Wars, gradually acquiring variations in style and expression.  It is a unique dance and particularly interesting due to the large number of accompanying melodies (tunes), created by fine musiciansof the 19th and 20th century.
            The “siganos” is a slow dance, as the name indicates, danced today by men and women at every feast. In the past, however, it was danced mainly by women. According to tradition, during Ottoman rule the Turkish lords (aga) used to invite Cretan families to so-called feasts, in order to have their wives and daughters dance. But they would strew chickpeas on the floor to make the women slip and fall and so ridicule them and humiliate them. The Cretans didn’t want the Turks to have it their way, so they used to tell the musicians, Christians in the majority, to play the “siganos”. We don’t know if this dance already existed or if it was improvised for that particular reason.  In the category of the “syrtos” dances we also have the “rodo”, which up till a few years ago was danced only in Lousakies, Kissamos, and the “mikro-mikraki”.
The “pentozali” (according to word of mouth tradition, which after thorough investigation and cross-checking has become historical fact) took its present music-dance form and name during the period of the revolution of Daskaloyiannis in 1770-71, perhaps by transforming an older “pyrrichios” dance. It was named pentozali because it symbolizes the fifth “zalo” (step), that is, the fifth chance – hope – attempt to free Crete from the Turks. It has ten steps, to commemorate the 10th October 1769, when the people of Sfakia made the decision to go ahead with the revolution, and its music consists of twelve music phrases (parts) in honour of the twelve leaders of the revolt. Accounts which have been preserved say that up till the early 1960’s, the people of the provinces of Kissamos and Selinos, while dancing the pentozali, on hearing each tune of the dance music, used to call out the name of the captain that corresponded to the music phrase, in this way honouring the memory of Daskaloyiannis, his chief comrades and their revolt. The form of the pentozali is particularly unique, fast, dynamic and explosive.  The contemporary distinction between “slow” and “fast” was made in the 1950’s, when some lyre players of Central Crete arranged the tune of the siganos dance of Central and Eastern Crete and then immediately moved into the pentozali. That was when the “slow pentozali”, as it is called today, first appeared.
Maleviziotis: It is also called “Kastrinos Pidichtos”. It is danced in a circle by men and women holding hands shoulder-high (elbows bent). It is in 2/4 time and has 16 steps.
In some of the dances we have mentioned here “improvisations” by the first dancer in line are a usual thing, while in others this is not the case. What we must point out here is that each dance is determined by its own folk traditions, and they dictate the particular in style and movement improvisations. That means that the first dancer may perform dance figures within bounds if he knows them or according to his own inspiration, without using movements from the improvisations of other dances.