Monday, March 14, 2011

Forgotten Dances of Crete

I will be holding a dance workshop in Kamilari / Crete from May 1st until May 7th. I thought the issue of this workshop might be interesting for everybody, so I would like to share with you what it is all about.

The Minoan civilization on the Mediterranean island of Crete began nearly 5,000 years ago and it lasted several thousand years, before the Dorians from the Greek mainland took over the island. When we consider that the Minoan Crete has formed the oldest civilization on European soil, it can be assumed that the Cretan dances are among the oldest cultural dances of humanity. Homer described the Cretans as enthusiastic dancers, and we know from many illustrations, that dance has played a central role in the life of the Minoans.

There is no clear evidence that the contemporary Cretan dances are stemming directly from the Minoans, but there is every indication that this is the case, at least for some dances. Therefore we can speak of a special status for the Cretan dances. Some dances certainly came later to the island, but the particular Cretan character is always obvious.

Today, most Cretans are commonly mastering five different dances, which we will also practice in our workshop:

1. Sirtos of Crete (also called Chaniotis, the most popular dance)
2. Malevisiotis (originally a war dance with fast, dynamic steps)
3. Siganos (or Siganos Pentozalis, a very simple dance)
4. Pentozalis (or Pidichtos Pentozalis, dynamic dance with jumps)
5. Sousta (a couples dance)

Except for the Sousta all those dances are danced in an open circle, as it is common in all of Greece. They are still danced at festivities (village festivals, weddings, baptisms, etc.) and taught in the schools. Although they belong to the general education of every Cretan, it is important to note that there are also local differences and variations.

However, it is generally not well known that additionally to these 5 dances there are many other Cretan dances, which are often almost forgotten and only maintained in some villages or areas. We want to dedicate this seminar to some of these dances, which form a unique cultural treasure and deserve to be rescued from oblivion. Only recently they are receiving increased attention and there are more and more musicians who play the accompanying music and have also recorded them on CDs.

Our aim is to learn at least 8 of those additional dances during this one week workshop

Although the Cretan dances with their Minoan influence have a special role, they still belong to the Greek dances, with their typical characteristics, as they have been formed in the ancient world. They were not only just dances for the people, but also a means for the comprehensive training of body and mind. They were considered "sacred exercises”, which have been brought by the Gods to humanity, in order to give mortals an opportunity to get in touch with the higher worlds. They belong to the realm of the "Muses" and are considered the highest discipline in the field of music. It is important to understand that the ancient Greek word for "music" equally included the playing of musical instruments, singing and dancing. All three are inextricably linked and all three are based on the traditional view of the "Divine Harmony", which can be expressed in figures, and so the dance has its counterpart in the numerical proportions of rhythm, meter and proportion.

As we will learn those dances in our seminar, we will also look for a deeper understanding of such relationships. But mainly we will be engaged in the actual process of dancing, thus having the direct experience of the forces and messages that each dance contains within itself, and ultimately can not be described with words. Just like the "Real Crete" will intuitively reveal itself only to the person who is willing to meet it with open hearts.

Hope that made you more curious... and I am also looking foreward to see some of you at the workshop or at other events and workshops that will certainly follow in the future.

For additional information please visit

Sangit Om