Be sure to click the hyperlinks, underlined or in a different color text.
I grew up in Marlboro, Massachusetts, where a small Greek community also lived. I was around Greek dancing when I was young. From the perspective of an outsider, Greek dancing has a wonderful element of community, and of course it is a spectacle of celbration and joy. In Honolulu, the Greek Festival is coming up, two weeks after I return. McCoy Pavilion in Ala Moana Beach Park.
When and where
The doors open on Saturday at noon, and continues into Sunday, admission is $3. There is a schedule loaded with all kinds of interesting things. They bring in a terrific band from L.A. which is as authentic as it gets.
The event starts in the afternoon. You can dance in the heat of the day, but the dancing does not get serious until 6:30 PM or so when the sun goes down. At that time, you can join the trance…… magic happens…… Rules of the venue require it to stop at 9 PM Saturday. The last forty-five minutes are at a fever pitch, and you will think you are somewhere in the Aegean Sea….
This is me with the beard. My daughter says I am trying to be “The Most Interesting Man in the World” – that would be a switch. I sometimes think I am kind of boring.
I don’t know how my knee will hold out…… we’ll see…… BUT, if it does you will see me there. Making a spectacle of myself, as in the past five years in a row.
My musical past
I used to be a member of The Huddled Masses Orchestra, a band that accompanied folk dancing in Maine. we took our name from the famous poem. When people came to our events, we always showed them how to do some simple steps. If you see me there, don’t by shy. Introduce yourself. You can join the same dance line as me, I promise to keep it simple.
If you have never done Greek dancing, there are some great examples on YouTube these days.
some guidelines about joining in the dance
There is a great article from Go Los Angeles about the unwritten rules of Greek dance. For a beginner, it sometimes looks chaotic, but it is not.
I am cutting-and-pasting here. One thing I would add is, most of the time any given band does not announce what kind of dance step they are about to play. The musicians assume the audience can tell the difference. ( and in Honolulu, they are many excellent dancers who can do so.). It’s a good idea to wait a minute to figure this out, or to hang with somebody who can.
A few Greek dances are danced as couples or solo, but most Greek dances are danced in a line. The line moves generally to the right and the person on the end with their right hand free is the leader. Everyone else follows the leader.
When a dance has a lot of variations, there is no particular order to dance those steps, so the leader calls the steps with hand signals. It is important to watch the leader to know what is coming next. If the leader is not using hand signals, you have to watch their feet.
The first rule of Greek dancing is never try to join a line at the right end (beginning of the line). Sometimes you will see the leader offer the lead to another dancer, but no one takes over the lead without an invitation.
Beginners should always join at the back of the line. You will see experienced dancers break into the middle of a line. There are two reasons for doing this. One is to dance next to friends who are already in the line. The second reason that experienced dancers will break into the middle of the line is so they don’t have to trip over beginners who don’t know the steps. So if you don’t know the steps, go to the back. Don’t break into the middle of a line.
Sometimes, if the line is long, you end up opposite the leader at the other end of the circle and it’s hard to follow the steps because you are looking at them backwards. If it’s crowded, you might not be able to see the leader through the crowd of other dancers. If you’re having a hard time getting the steps, you might want to go behind the leader for a few minutes to practice the steps before joining the end of the line.
The most common dance is the Syrto. It is easy to learn because most people dance it without variations and the bands like to play 20 minute Syrto medleys, so there is plenty of time to pick up the 12-step slow-quick-quick slow-quick-quick rhythm. (This doesn’t apply if you get in my line. My feet get bored doing the same 12 steps for 20 minutes, so I throw in lots of variations.)
At many Greek Festivals they teach a couple of the dances once or twice a day so that beginners get a chance to learn the steps properly. You can also ask some of the more experienced dancers to show you the steps in between songs or when the band takes a break.
If you find the line dances intimidating, you can still join in the Tsifteteli, the Greek version of a belly danced which can be danced as a couple or solo. There are no steps, just get out there and wiggle.
The other dance you will see people dancing alone is the Zembekiko, or drunkard’s dance. This also has no specific steps, but involves stumbling around precariously to the rhythm of the music. In the Zembekiko you will see several dancers down on one knee clapping around a particular dancer, and then they’ll trade off. There are no rules. You can dance alone or you can join the clapping for someone else. As long as you’re having fun, you’re doing just fine.
Now go out and hit the dance floor. Opa!
the three Greek dances they are guaranteed to play
If you wish to prepare, be advised that a reasonably coordinated person can usually pick up the steps to the most commonly done dances, very quickly. (click on the underlined sections)
1) Syrto, part one and part two. Also, here is a link to a really clear teaching video about the Kalamatiano, a related dance. the best, in my opinion.
2) Zonaradiko – which is Bulgaria would be called a pravo….. or in Israel, the Hora.
3) Tsamico – in 3/4 time. when you watch this one, don’t be distracted by the first two guys in line – the third and fourth guy are doing the “basic step” and that’s all a beginner needs to know. The first two guys are strutting their stuff, which is very entertaining, everyone else has a spot in the front row!
If you can do the ones above, you will be able to participate in two-thirds of the action.
The band usually also plays a Hasapiko or two; these get a bit more complicated. The local Greek community will always do some zebekeiko. (there seem to be ten ways to spell this word…). This is a solo dance, and you will be impressed by the high level of skill and passion.