Greek history is as long and rich as any in the world; it’s the birth place of many great things such as mathematics, philosophy and even styles of folk music. One particular style which originated in Crete is known as kritika. Lyra and violin are the dominant instruments in this traditional music.
Many of the traditional melodies are paired with traditional dances such as the Syrtos and Sousta, but the music is as much improvisational as it is music on a sheet which gives it an extremely lively and adventurous musical form. It can be a spectacle to watch and is a must see for anyone visiting Chania in Crete.
This traditional music of Crete, like any traditional Greek music, was a product of ancient Byzantium and western inspirations. The lyra was an instrument used by the Byzantines and was spread widely through the 9th century as a result of their extensive trade routes, although in Europe the term lyra and fiddle are often interchangeable in describing bowed instruments.
By the 20th century the violin had found a more prominent place in Cretan folk music, preferred by the players of Eastern Crete while the west still preferred the more traditional lyra. This music is still played today and is a great tradition on the island.
Mantinadas: Cretan folk music
Mantinadas are the most common form of lyric that Cretan folk music uses. They consist of rhyming couplets in two fifteen-syllable lines, which is a form taken from traditional medieval Cretan poetry. Improvisation from the singer is common but the lyrics are also often taken from these traditional poems and put to music.
These lyrics are often focussed on love and nature due to their origins in Romantic poetry, but in the west Cretan highlands there is also a form called the rizitika which are heroic ballads. These are often performed without instrumental accompaniments and are much more true to their poetic routes.
Traditional Dances of Crete
The Syrtos is the collective name of a group of Greek folk dances. These are the most popular dances throughout Greece, Crete and Cyprus, and also by the Greek community worldwide. They are popular at social gatherings, weddings and festivals.
Syrtos traditionally consists of line and circle dances, the dancers holding hands and facing right with the dancer at the end the leader of the dance. This leader may also take the position of solo performer, making twisting moves in a showy fashion as the rest of the line continues on with the traditional steps. A handkerchief is held between this solo dancer and the next in line, so he or she can do these moves without fear of falling.
Other Dances of Crete
There are many regional differences of these dances, particularly between islands. The common link is the chain of dancers, but if you see the dance in both Crete and Cyprus the chances are that it will be a vastly different experience each time.
Angaliastos means “hugged” or “embraced” – the dancers move through their own line over and over, until each dancer appears to be embraced. This is one of the more sedate folk dances found in Crete, as it’s more slow and focused than quick and energetic.
Ksenompasaris (also spelt Xenompasaris) is another of the slower, more sedate dances, with a simple, light melody. It is thought that it might be an older form of the Siganos. The name comes from the folk couplet which is sung at the beginning:
“Xenompasarikaki mou, xenompasariko mou
Sgouro Vasilakaki mou,kai na soune diko mou”
Maleviziotis, also called Kastrinos, is a very lively and energetic dance which is designed to emphasise the skill, stamina and energy of the lead dancer. Performed in a circular line, the lead dancer performs impressive leaps and jumps to the music, showing off their energy and stamina, and it’s quite the sight to see!
Ntames is a form of round dance, with the male dancers moving forward to dance with the woman in front of them at the call of the singer. As with many dances in Crete, the female dancers hold a cloth for the male dancers to catch hold of the other end, instead of just holding hands.
Pentozalis is another quick dance; as the name implies, it has five steps but they are quick and complex. As with the Maleviziotis, the lead dancer will show off their skills with impressive leaps and jumps, with different dancers taking it in turns to take this position. The Pentozalis is traditionally a war dance, symbolising revolution, heroism and hope, with black kerchiefs often worn on the dancers’ heads to symbolise the sacrifices made by Cretans before them. This dance, due to its martial nature, is generally only performed by male dancers.
Siganos is a slower dance, almost like a walk. Some say that it was created during the Ottoman occupation of Crete; the Ottoman rulers had floors covered with slippery material so that the dancers would fall, so the dancers simply developed a dance with slower, more measured steps to enable them to keep their feet! Others say that it echoes Theseus’ escape from the Labyrinth.
Sousta is the name of a dance found throughout the Aegean; it is often a courtship dance, performed in pairs. Like many of Crete’s traditional dances, it is quick and lively, with small bouncy steps making it an excellent cardiovascular workout!
Because the people of Crete are famously hospitable, you may well find yourself invited to local celebrations during your stay where you will see these, and other traditional dances, performed.
If you want to experience the amazing Cretan musicians and dances, then one of our beautiful villas is the destination for you. So, feel free to contact us on 01789 29770 to book your reservation today and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for more news.