The Greek Dance for Art, God, Entertainment and Health

by Christopher Xeneopoulos Janus

The dance is one of the oldest forms of art not only in Greece, but throughout the world. In Greece it also has a religious connotation and it is a form of healthful meaning.

Music is required for the dance in most instances. But the main essential for a dance is rhythm. In Africa, for instance, the dance is without music only rhythm is required because this rhythm frees the body from all restraints and allows the body to dance freely and innately.

Within Greece every region has its own style and type of dance. There are many different styles and interpretations from all the Greek islands and surrounding areas. Each region formed their own moves and footwork to fit the way of their people.

There are over 4,000 traditional dances that came from all regions of Greece. Usually these, dances are performed in regional costumes. I first wrote about Greek dances when I was at Oxford in 1936-37. At that time the Oxford Press did stories and books on the Greek dance and I used this material at Oxford as I'm using this material in writing a general story on Greek dancing.

The earliest traces of Greek civilization date back to the Bronze Age. During this period, the Mycenaean, the early Greek hunting society, developed into a country of rich kingdoms and palaces. They borrowed heavily from the long-standing traditions of their Cretan neighbors and recent evidence suggests that they may have conquered Crete during this time. Their prowness in war extended to Troy; archaeological evidence corroborates the Homeric account of the Myceneans' triumph over the Trojans sometime between 1250 and 1230BC.

Traditional dance may be defined as dance transmitted from one generation to the next by continuous immersion rather than by formal teaching, while folk dance consists of traditional dances learned within a nontraditional society for educational performance, therapeutic, or other purposes.

In this sense traditional dancing is still widely practiced in the Greek countryside, although modernization has, caused a steady decline since World War II.

Young people have left the villages to find jobs in towns or abroad; roads have been opened to previously inaccessible areas; television sets have proliferated the home; tourists flood the coasts every summer' and discos sprout in the smallest towns. Customary means of entertainment have changed, while government policy toward dance has been one of marked neglect.

The Greek Civil War forced a large part of the rural population to find refuge in towns, while they come to regard the village life as backward. The postwar generation does not identify with the dances of its ancestors. Traditional dances have gradually become the province of folk dance groups with a subsequent loss of feeling and increased emphasis on the spectacular.

There are about 4,000 folk dance groups around the country and about 1,000 in Greek communities abroad.

The Greek government does not give them financial support, but they themselves raise the funds needed for costumes and other equipment. These groups tend to base their repertory on dances from the local state supported region for which they already have costumes.

Finally, in addition to the function of dance in civic and religious ritual, physical development and military training, the Greeks also appreciate dance as entertainment.

In each case, visitors are entertained-sometimes by participating themselves and a leisure pursuit.

(Posting date 22 December 2006)

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