Dance Situations

The life of the Greek peasant was one of deprivation and relentless toil, occasion­ally punctuated by such customs as weddings and religious feasts, opportunities for enjoyment and forging relations with one's fellows. Dance and song, however, were not restricted to specific times and places as they are today. Indeed, the further back we go in time the greater part these played in all aspects of social intercourse, being an integral part of daily life; a phenomenon particularly fascinating to those living in modern industrial society.

We still dance at weddings and parties, just as they danced at charts and philiés in days gone by. We may not go to panigyria but we do go to discotheques, yet no one would even dream of "dancing" his way to church or "treading a measure" in his office or factory. Families no longer spontaneously burst into song and get up and dance as they sit in their flats in the evening. We watch dance on television or at the theatre, at specific times and without being able to join in. Like any other social event nowadays, dance only takes place at a set time and in a set place.

In traditional society, however, people not only danced at those events for which dance was an essential element, such as weddings and patronal feasts, they danced whenever and wherever they felt like it, provided there was company. They danced at home, in the courtyard, the fields, the coffee shop, on board ship, in the meadow, at the well or fountain. A villager would burst into song, others would join in, another would suddenly start dancing, others would follow. This is the fundamental difference between dance then and dance now, its place in the social network, not its movements.

Thus it is not so important to answer the question "Where do Greeks dance?", as to examine the occasions when they dance. Such typical situations will be considered below. In many of these, regular repetition of particular songs meant that these came to be associated with a particular event and because they immediately bring this to mind they are only sung then, even though the words are not necessarily appropriate. In just the same way the dances to these songs came to be linked with a particular occasion. Just a few of these dances for specific occasions have survived: carnival, Easter, wedding dances etc. The dances performed in the villages today tend to be "all purpose", though when one asks he often finds that they were originally associated with a particular event.

The descriptions which follow have many shortcomings, not least because, of necessity, they generalise a field of knowledge the significance of which lies precisely in the local variants and peculiarities. The mixture of present and past tenses does not mean that the custom is observed today or no longer observed, respectively. It is merely a figure of speech. By the same token, the use of a particular word does not mean that it is the most correct or that it is used all over Greece, simply that it is the one in most common use, derived from the Peloponnesian dialect which displaced all other Greek dialects and is nowadays spoken all over Greece. Nor do the synoptic descriptions of a custom mean that it was enacted in exactly the same manner everywhere or that there was a "pan-hellenic prototype" from which local variants derived. On the contrary, we believe that events developed independently yet parallel in each village, under the mutual influence of the world outside. The folklorists' obsession with seeking origins in the remote past simply occludes their inability to penetrate the interconnections and interactions of the phenomena they are confronting.

Customs, whether dance customs or any other, should be described in detail within the context of the village or group of related villages in which they are observed. This is the only valid approach on which to base analyses of social phenomena and determine their articulation. Alas, tomes and tomes have been penned by Greek folklorists, full of references to the same custom in different parts of the country, such as those connected with marriage or Easter. An endless stream of information on what is done in one village and what in another, from which one can only conclude that in all regions the customs are very much the same.

We should bear these remarks in mind lest the study of Greek dance proceed in the wrong direction, led astray by the prevailing attitude towards traditional society. The preservation of dance in its traditional form is inextricably interwoven with the preservation of its terminology - and in fact every one of its aspects - in a strictly local context.