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Wednesday, 11 October 2006 22:13

The main difference between a dance lesson and a rehearsal is that in the former one is taught dances in order to dance them whenever the occasion arises, while the aim of the latter is to prepare the dancer specifically for a performance. A lesson is much slower, there is less emphasis on the finer points or figures and more on encouraging the dancer, especially the beginner, to overcome his difficulties. Once he has gained confidence the instructor tries to teach a large number of dances in quite a short time.

The situation at a rehearsal is the opposite, here the emphasis is on learning a set programme well and on synchronising the dancers' movements in order to create a good impression on the audience. In practice, however, since little attention has been paid to the issue of teaching dance, or to presenting it on stage for that matter, there is actually little difference between a lesson and a rehearsal. So, those interested in learning to dance may just as well attend the rehearsals of one of the folk dance groups listed in the corresponding catalogue.

In the list which follows, most of the institutions offering regular courses in Greek dance are mentioned. Greek dance is also taught in some ballet schools, private dance schools and secondary schools and even in the armed forces. Recently dance lessons have been organised in local cultural centres or neighbourhood associations, along with other activities (such as foreign languages, handicraft, photography etc.). Dances are also taught as part of the curriculum in the teacher-training and physical education departments of the Universities.

Dance lessons are usually held in the evening, once, twice or three times a week, they last about a couple of hours and cost very little. The quality of teaching varies enormously. Apart from the essential attributes of enthusiasm and an ability to communicate, most teachers know little or nothing about dance as such and, furthermore, have little respect for it. This nonchalant attitude often rubs off on the pupils who, at best, view dance as a pleasant pastime, having no idea that there is far more to it than meets the eye.

Most dance instructors have learnt the dances at training college - if they are gym teachers - or in a dance group of some kind. Only rarely have they personal experience of the dances of the regions other than their native one. So they teach Cretan dances without ever having visited Crete or even danced with Cretans. Again, only rarely have they investigated other villages in their region, to learn new dances, perfect the ones they already know or discover new facets which will enhance their understanding of them. Lamentably, there are cases of those in charge of dance troupes actually distorting the movements of a dance, in order to make it more impressive, of inventing figures quite alien to the local idiom and even of imposing choreographic traits copied wholesale from performances by foreign folk dance companies. Television has much to answer for in this respect for all too often it presents groups of inferior standard in all respects: dance, costume, music. The schools too are culpable of considerable damage by staging performances of dances which bear little resemblance to the original version.

Because musicians are expensive to hire, music for teaching is provided by cassettes, often poorly recorded and of tunes quite unsuitable for dance, more especially teaching dance. Teaching methodology is rudimentary; the teacher marks out the steps slowly, counting as he goes, and the pupils follow and copy him, over and over again until they learn. There is no breaking down of the movements and corresponding analysis of the musical metre, so that dance emerges naturally from the music. In general it is the steps which are taught and not the local idiom of total body movements. By and large the dances are taught "in vacuo", they are not prefaced by any introductory remarks or additional snippets of information, which is another much neglected aspect. The pupils are not told where a dance is danced, by whom, in what costume, setting etc. At most they are told which region it comes from, e.g. Thrace, the Ionian islands. It is not uncommon for the pupils not to know the name of the dance they are dancing. No attempt is made to marry dance and music, by listening to different songs to which the same steps are danced, or different versions of the same song.

Compared with those of other countries, Greek dances are rather slow, have simple steps and no elaborate group formations. In most cases the dancers form an open circle and all dance the basic step, except the first dancer on the right who is able to braider the dance with variations and improvisations. For this reason emphasis is placed on the overall effect, the style of the dance and the impression made by the dancer, which is based on characteristic subtle movements, particular local traits.

For the Greek villager dance continues to maintain its archetypal ritual dimension. This is evident from the central role which group dance plays in all festivities and the seriousness with which it is regarded. The local colour and ritual nature of dance are two basic aspects which completely escape dance teachers, who see it merely as bodily exercise or a means of entertainment.

The best advice to anyone intending to study Greek dance seriously is to confine himself to the dances of a particular region, at least for quite some time. A novice should first take lessons with a good teacher or attend some rehearsals. When he has acquired sufficient body control and confidence to be able to dance without thinking, then he can dance at panigyria or in dance tavernas. If, however, he wishes to delve deeper there is but one course he should follow and that is the traditional one: he should try and find a master. In every village there is someone, male or female, who was a renowned dancer in his youth, and once convinced that the would-be pupil is truly in earnest, will agree to dance with him. Only when he has danced the same dance with the master, over and over again, will he feel that special sensation which is the essence and beauty of traditional dance.
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