So You Think You Can (Greek) Dance?

22 Sep

It’s time I let a dirty little secret out of the bag: I never went to Greek school and I never learned to Greek dance.

In high school, I attended a Greek festival with a group of non-Greeks.  I had some helpful tips for my friends on which pies to pick (and VERY strong opinions on which pastries we’d be eating), but when it came to the dancing, I was clueless.  I had gone to my fair share of Greek Festivals,  and my very favorite parts of weddings had been the times when my Pappou and his friends would line up and dance. I remember feeling a strong sense of belonging to these movements, but when my friends started nudging me toward the stage, a paralyzing fear of not knowing the steps came over me. 

Since then, I’ve learned to muddle through a step or two.  I’m an enthusiast–not an expert–and you’ll probably never see me leading the line.  But, if you’d like some advice from a mid-line Zorba, see below.

Let’s start with the basics. 

-Line Up and Get Close: Most of the dances you’ll see at your run-of-the-mill wedding or Festival are going to be line dances.  In this configuration, the best dancer leads the line and everyone else links hands behind him/her to form a circle that moves counterclockwise.  If, like me, you’re not there to show off, find the middle and do whatever you can to stay in the middle.  This, by the way, is also a nice way to finnagle a meeting with the cute Greek you’ve been eyeing from across the dance floor–though it is not advisable if you are a palm sweater (trust me on that one).

-Don’t know the moves? No problem.  Most dances have 1-2 repeated steps (maybe three if the ouzo’s been flowing) that go on for the entirety of the dance. Most of the really fancy stuff you see is non-line or freestyle–and we will save those for another post. As far as I’m concerned, you can watch the line for two or three bars and then three-step your way through most of these dances to your little heart’s delight.

-Greeks look out for each other.   If you’re a bumbling mess on the dance floor, never fear: the more-experienced dancer next to you will probably smile, start counting the steps with you, and hold his/her arm straight enough that no one else notices a break in the chain. So relax!

We’re going to spend some time with the Kalamatiano, the Hasaposerviko, and the Tsamiko.

Kalamatiano
If you’ve got an eye to antiquity, you may recall this dance described in The Iliad. If not, I’ll refresh your memory with the 21st century answer to the epic poem: You Tube.

This dance looks harder than it is, but success is based on your center of gravity.  If you stay light and on your toes, you’ve got a chance of making it. There’s a great instruction portion in the video below (complete with amusing quote bubbles) followed by about 3 minutes of unfrilly, clean demonstration. Please do not judge me or my people by the prevalence of early 1990s athletic gear featured here.
 

Hasaposerviko
This is one of my absolute favorites.  It’s a great example of how Greek dancing can be dressed-up or dressed-down based on the skill of the dancer(s). 

A simple Hesaposerviko:

 
And a more jazzed version:

Tsamiko

And last- the man’s dance.  Literally, the name means ‘Dance of the Charms.”  I like this dance because it is much less about the steps and much more about the precision, attitude, and style of the dancer himself.  It’s a slow dance that requires both group cohesion and spectacular individual talent.  Also, I love how closely it resembles break dancing: further proving that the Greeks invented everything! 🙂

Got it? Good.  Now rush to Rhodes, pay a visit to Cafe Chantant and then send me a thank-you note.

 

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