Greek Dance 101 - Hyporchema, Dionysiakos, Korybantes, Phyrrhichios, Syrtos, Sirtaki, Hasapiko

From Amazon warriors princesses dancing around a bonfire to light and jumpy, modern Greek dances – there are many Greek dances, some really exist and some are lost in the land of mythology. It is estimated that there are around 4,000 different regional Greek dances – it would be impossible to make a list and to describe them all. So let's simply have a look at a few examples and general information about the importance of dance in Greek in the past and the present.

Greek dance in the past

Amazon tribes dances

Greece is one of the countries that are well known for their rich history, culture and mythology. One part of Greek's history or mythology (depending on which books you read) are the famous Amazons, tribes of warrior women who lived without men and who were fierce warriors. Dance was supposedly an important factor for many of their rituals and celebrations. The Amazon dances were energetic, often rather “free-style”, and usually seen as a dedication to the goddess Artemis, who was seen as the guardian goddess of the Amazon tribes. If you have ever seen an episode of “Hercules” or “Xena – Warrior Princess” in which Amazons were part of the story, you will most likely also have seen the Amazons dance. Amazons have been rather popular in the 1990's, but whether Amazons really danced like modern entertainment depicts them, is a different questions.

Dances for the worship of Gods and Goddesses

No matter whether the Amazon dances we see in movies and TV series are anywhere close to the truth, it is a fact that dancing was often used in the Greek worship of Gods and Goddesses. Dance was seen as something civilized, and so it was natural for the Greek to use it for many different occasions. Some examples of historical Greek dances are:

This was a dance connected to the Greek worship of the God Apollo. The dance usually consisted of two different groups (men as well as women were part of both groups) dancing around an altar dedicated to Apollo. One group was simply dancing around the altar while the other group was assigned to do a mimic performance at the same time. The dances were either accompanied by a song or by a poem (for whose words the second group would do the mimicking).

This dance was, not unsurprisingly with that name, a dance for the popular god Dionysus. As this god of wine and entertainment is still rather popular even though Greek has moved away from their ancient gods and goddesses, this form of dance has had a revival in various regions of Greece, especially in Larissa, where an annual Phallus festival takes place.

Cybele had her own flock of worshipers though the reception of this goddess in Greece is a different story. Some of her worshipers armed themselves (men) and showed their reference to Cybele by dancing and drumming.

Not so much a dance for the gods, but nevertheless worth mentioning. This dance (there are various forms of it, and some were dedicated to the god of war, Ares) has a rather shocking effect on an unknowing audience as the dancers in the group (usually pairs) make the dance look like a war, often daggers and other weapons are involved. In the process of the dance, one dancer usually gets stabbed by the other and falls to the floor. The other dancer first rejoices about his or her win, but then also falls down because he grieves a fellow man's death – often followed by suicide. Of course, it is all fake, and no dancer dies.

Contemporary Greek dances

Even though the worshiping of the gods is not part of the general public in Greece any longer, some of the traditional Greek dances are still used in modern Greece, but of course a new type of dancing has also emerged, and Greece is no stranger to more contemporary forms of dance. Some dances that are used in Greece these days are:

Syrtos (also known as Sirtaki):
This dance has many regional varieties and has been known in Greece for hundreds of years. The one thing that all regional varieties have in common is that the dance is performed by a group of people who dance in a row or circle. The dance steps are usually very simple so everyone in a village could take part in it. However, like in many other Greek dances, you need to know where in the chain of dancers you should take your place, as it has a lot to do with your status and place in the village.

The Hasapiko can be danced as a slow dance but also as a fast dance and originated in Constantinople in the middle ages. Though the Hasapiko is still used regionally, it is often replaced by the Sirtaki dance.

Different regions, different dances:
To really appreciate the variety of Greek dances, you would have to have a look at how people dance during festivals in different regions of Greece as the characteristics of the regions often translate into different styles of dances. Some regions of Greece have fluid dances influenced by the water around them (e.g. the Aegean Island dances), while other regions have dances that are more solid.