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Cretan Dance

The war-dance of the Curetes

Do not be surprised, when musicians are playing the lyra and laóuto in the taverna where you are eating, if someone jumps up and performs a dance by himself, completely oblivious of his surroundings. He is making a spontaneous statement to the world; for the Cretan, dance is an expression of mood, a way to express delight, but also to work off anger or express sadness. Or he may pull some friends to their feet, with much good-natured jostling and coercion; an unspoken message passes between dancers and musicians, the line forms and begins to move in time to the rhythm. The dance is the Sirtós, which takes many forms all over Greece and Crete, for example that danced in the west is usually the Sirtós Haniotikós, after the city of Chania. Cretan dances are predominantly the domain of men, but in the Sirtós both men and women take part, joining hands and taking their cue from a leader. The steps are small, the movements delicate, and the line moves slowly in an open circle; you are welcome to join in! This dance inspired the composer Mikis Theodorakis to devise the Syrtáki especially for Anthony Quinn, in the film ‘Zorba the Greek’.
A dance which definitely requires both women and men is the Soústa, which takes its name from the noise made by the dancer’s feet rubbing together. It is a dance connected with the promise of love, and often performed at weddings.

The slow Siganós is a dance by both men and women which introduces the famous, all-male dance, the Pentozális. The men link up in a line, clasping shoulders or hands: at first, their upper bodies remain rigid and only their feet move, then the first dancer in the row will suddenly slap his heels and begin to leap high into the air, after which he breaks away and the next in line does the same. Many people believe that this vigorous dance originated during the Minoan period, and indeed it may have been a kind of war-dance, even perhaps performed by the Couretes, guardians of the baby Zeus in the cave on Mount Ida! The acrobatics graphically mirror the fierce, extrovert and untamed spirit of the Cretan mountains. In another dance, called the Pidiktós or Maleviziotikós and popular in central Crete, men perform fast, intricate jumping steps while moving in a closed circle.