Greek dances are sometimes referred to with three speeds: Fast, slow, and really fast. When requesting a particular dance, try using the actual names of the dances instead of the tempos they are danced to. Here are some ways to distinguish between these dances to avoid any confusion.
In most Greek dance celebrations, Kalamatiano is the most common. The dance is comprised of twelve steps-six steps to the right, followed by six steps in place. This dance is sometimes referred to as syrto. In essence they are the same dance-Kalamatiano is a syrto that originates from Kalamata, a city in southern Greece. Some people refer to this dance as the “fast” one, or the dance with the “regular” beat. Kalamatiano is a steady dance and does not require a great deal of exertion from the dancers.
A song called “Mandili Kalamatiano” is one of the most traditional Greek folk dances. Its name comes from the lyric that describes a young woman who wears a kerchief around her neck. Usually the lead dancer uses a white handkerchief as a prop that is waved about in the free hand or held between the lead dancer and the second dancer. In this case, the handkerchief (or a clean dinner napkin on occasion) becomes an extension that allows the leader to interact with his or her partner to the left, allowing freedom of movement to incorporate improvisations. The mandili has both form and function in Greek folk dance.
Other traditional songs include “Samiotissa” (“Girl from Samos”), “Milo Mou Kokkino” (My Red Apple), and “To Papaki” (The Duck). These titles may sound strange to people who are used to popular contemporary songs, but keep in mind that they reflect the folk reality of the people who wrote them. While the titles may sound strange, the lyrics often tell the stories about a young man’s admiration of a young woman, a person from a particular village or town, or unrequited love.
After a couple of Kalamatiano songs, a Tsamiko is often played. This one is known as the “slow” dance. Like Kalamatiano, Tsamiko is comprised of twelve steps, but at a different rhythm and a much slower tempo. The line moves much slower than a Kalamatiano, so it is not uncommon for dancers to take a rest or sit out during this dance. For some dancers, however, Tsamiko’s slow tempo allows for each dancer, and especially the lead dancer, to express steps in a more blah blah blah manner. A skilled dancer will take the lead position and incorporate elaborate variations, such as kicks, squats, lifts, or even an overhead flip! The handkerchief takes a more functional role here as it serves as an extension between the two front dancers, allowing the second dancer to offer steady support for the lead dancer to execute impressive variations. Tsamiko is enjoyable to dance indeed, but it is also a great deal of fun to watch!
The music at your celebration will likely switch between Kalamatiano and Tsamiko throughout the night. Eventually, the Hasaposerviko, or “the fast one” will be played. This dance is always a crowd pleaser, but is not for dancers who would like a bit of rest. Instead of holding hands, dancers put their arms on each other’s shoulders. The step is really simple-three steps to the right followed by two kicks in place. Like most dances, the leader determines the speed of the line-he can take large steps and move the line quickly to the right, or take smaller steps. This may be a dance that you do at your own risk. You may step out of the line if you need a breather-the dancers behind you will gladly pick up the pace to catch up with the rest of the line once you leave.
While these three dances are the most common ones danced at a Greek reception, there are hundreds more that make up the tradition of Greek folk dance. Recognizing these three dances, though, will deepen your understanding of Greek dance.