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The dance in Rhodes


  The dance in Rhodes

(in Greek)

Author: Alkis Raftis


Publisher: Dora Stratou Dance


                 Scholiou 8, Plaka,

                 GR-10558 Athens,


                 Tel. +30 210 324 4395

                       +30 210 324 6188;

                  fax +30 210 324 6921

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Year of publication:  2004

154 pages 19.5 x 28.5 cm.

ISBN  960-7204-18-2                 (9607204182)

    A luxury album including the corpus of knowledge on dance on the Island of Rhodes, from the antiquity till the present.

    Full color illustrations, engravings, archeological finds, photographs - most of them hitherto unpublished.

    Accounts by travellers of the 18th and the 19th century, gleaned from rare books.

    A field research carried out by the world's most prolific writer on dance. Dr. Alkis Raftis, a university professor of sociology, considered as the father of dance scholarship in Greece.



Ο χορός στη Ρόδο


Συγγραφέας:  Αλκης Ράφτης

Εκδότης:  Θέατρο Ελληνικών Χορών "Δόρα Στράτου"

                 Σχολείου 8, Πλάκα, 10558 Αθήνα

                 τηλ. 210.324.4395, 210.324.6188, φαξ 210.324.6928

                  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

154 σελίδες  19.5 x 28.5 εκ.

Ετος έκδοσης:  2004

ISBN  960-7204-18-2






Traditional dancing in Rhodes 

by Alkis Raftis





      I collected the material recorded in this article from elderly musicians and dancers in about twenty villages of Rhodes during the months of July and August 1983. Throughout this period I was interviewing inhabitants almost daily, each interview lasting an average of two hours. At the same time I was researching the bibliography, and questioning a number of Rhodians, on the subject. I was conducting a survey of the island with a view to writing a book about customs connected with the dances of Rhodes. However, I was subsequently unable to continue my research with the aim of complementing and cross-checking a number of points. As the years passed, I learnt that one by one my informants had died (they had been in their sixties or seventies). This fact persuades me to publish now a part of the material in the hope that some one else will manage to continue the study before it is too late to do so. 

      A methodological drawback of the research (ah, teacher, isn't that just what you taught us?) is that I began it with the presumption that the dance customs of an island with about forty villages would be of a homogeneous nature. Thus my investigations were widespread, whereas I should have concentrated my research on a single village, supplementing my findings from its neighbors. Fortunately, it became apparent in the course of my study that the differences between one village and the next were not so great as in other regions. I have, therefore, assumed that in Rhodes the differences are due mainly to the personalities of the leading figures at any celebration (the violinist, vocalist, and most accomplished dancers). These are the individuals who establish the practices of each village by exercising their own preferences, drawing however upon the stock of music and dances which would seem to be common to all the villages. This may be explained by the fact that there have not been movements of populations, as well as by the geographical character of the island which has permitted easy communication between them. Another reason for this similarity is that each instrumentalist has usually been the pupil of a skilled player in a village other than his own, and so has introduced melodies from elsewhere to his native place. Nonetheless a more detailed study should make due allowance for the small if characteristic differences between one village and the next. 

      What I do know is that I collected far more material than I had expected. People were very willing to talk, they had clear recollections of events and were glad to recount them. Things are not invariably like that in other regions of Greece. But in Rhodes, as everywhere else, dance behavior at contemporary weddings and festivals (paniyiria) is a rather sad spectacle and only on rare occasions is it reminiscent of bygone days. Consequently there is little to be learnt by participant observation: one must rely wholly on interviewing. 

      Rhodes stands out above the rest of Greece in respect of its highly developed tourism, which preceded that of other parts of the country. One would therefore expect traces of traditional life to have vanished sooner. But I found no evidence of this, perhaps because the bulk of tourist activity is concentrated in the city of Rhodes, which lies at one extreme of the island, and at points on the coast where visitors stay in large hotels and move around in groups. 

      Use of the present tense does not imply that the event described occurs in our own day, but refers largely to the years prior to 1950, after which customs began to lose their hold. The past tense applies to events that are even older, some of them dating to Ottoman empire days, prior to 1914. Idiomatic or dialectical words and phrases appear in inverted commas. Even where they do not so appear, most phrases are reproduced precisely as they were spoken; thus the text is for the most part a compilation of the words used by the islanders themselves. I have taken their sentences one by one from my notes and arranged them thematically, concerned only that they should make sense. To this extent I am not the author of this text, but only of such generalizations and interpretations as occur in it.



General remarks on the dance in Rhodes


      "The dancer" is not just any one who joins in a dance, but the person who dances particularly well, whether male or female. Female dancers who accompany a man in a dance are known as his "koustieres". Only when it comes to European dances are they called "dames", while the man is usually referred to as the "kavallieros": "Your kavallieros, dear, your dancing partner". The word "koustiera" (elsewhere "koutiera") must derive from the medieval costiere meaning a flanking figure (from which comes the French word côté), in other words simply the girl or woman beside a man. The same word "koustiera" is used to describe the stone adjacent to a corner-stone in wall masonry. 

      Every male dancer has his "koustieres" on his left side and never fewer than one, as two men never dance beside each other. A dance commences only when at least two dancers, each with his "koustiera", are linked together; "Come, let's link together" is the usual invitation. But others must join in, too, or else the dance (in Greek the word stands also for chorus) is not fully engaged. They speak of the dance being "immediately engaged", and "so-and-so engaged in the dance". Thus initially someone forms a link (exceptionally, men may link together provided women immediately interpose themselves between them); the dance is engaged later. The reverse occurs when the lead dancer "disengages" or "breaks off" by letting go of the hands of the two dancers to the left of him (the dancers are linked together in the familiar manner of crossed arms) in order to perform agile leaps and turns; a dancer "cuts out" when he withdraws from the circle of dancers. a woman will cut out if she has a weighty reason for leaving the dance, but is not permitted to break away in order to make the agile movements that are the prerogative of the men. 

      The man who leads the dance is "in the front"; he is "the front link" and has "taken the front position". There is a "kanaki" (a laudatory verse) addressed to the groom with his bride which runs: "Stay in the front with the vine withy (in your hand)". The lead dancer may perform twists and twirls, leaps and cross-steps, he may squat and slap his legs with his hands, or weave in and out of the circle. 

      The lead dancer shakes his body, "he plays shakes"; "he has a strong shake", "he lets go of his koustiera and bends and twists", "he leaves the woman and performs "tsalimia", then he engages with her again". "Crouch, go down on your knees till your breeches touch the ground". These movements were not called "figures", that is, mere variations of established steps and movements. When you' re out in front you can't jump about and sign; only later when others have linked hands with you will you sign." "Only the leader is called a dancer; he 's the one who starts the dance and ends it." 

      When the one in front has been dancing long enough the man at the end of the line "cuts adrift" from his koustieres, that is, he leaves the line, abandons the circle and starts out in front waiting to take the lead. As the lead dancer approaches he starts to dance again to show him he wishes to go ahead of him, says "To your health!", and engages in the dance with his koustieres always on his left side. He may leave the lead dancer to make another full circle, for it might be discourteous to wish to link up at once. The man now in second place continues to dance in the circle until he reaches the end position when he may abandon the dance, taking his koustieres with him. 

      Such would be an ideal performance. In practice, though, it is often a dancer from the middle of the circle who stands out in front or a spectator who makes straight for the lead position instead of entering the circle and linking up with his "koustieres" somewhere around the center. "If the other fellow 's a rascal, he won't wait. You should dance another round, but if he insists on linking up before you 'have done one then you have the makings of a squabble". It is a fact that most arguments are over places in the dance. 

      According to this pattern, in which each man has his koustieres on his left, there would always be a woman at the end of the circle. But there must always be a man in this position: they never leave a woman in last place in any of the dances. If a woman does end up there, then a man will at once be sent along to join the dance from among the bystanders ("Go and support the lasses"), or a man will leave the center to link up with her; alternatively the last man will move his koustieres to his right side. The last man "supports the tail", or "holds the beans". This position becomes rather belittling if one man fills it for long; each male dancer should fill it at some time or other. If someone doesn't know how to dance well he is said to be "sitting on the beans"; he leaves the man on his right to cut out and go into the lead. In Marts the last man is named "the pillar" of the dance because he is immobile, to the extent that he makes no crouching movements: "It's the same on a threshing-floor, where the donkey is yoked and goes round and round a pillar". While it would be offensive to a woman were she the pillar, it is not so to a man. The lead dancer takes with him as it were his pillar, he and his pillar making a kind of pair. If one of them tires he changes place with the other; if he wants to withdraw from the dance he must first find a replacement who will support his koustieres. 

      The "koustieres" attached to any one dancer must be sufficient in number, or else his dancing will seem lack-luster. "The man rises with a single "koustiera" and she takes her friends with her: a "koustiera" cannot dance alone. In the old days when there were no instrumentalists, if you took one "koustiera" with you fifteen followed." It is to be understood that any koustiera is a relation of the man or from a closely connected family. "Married women dance only when they are related, else the man falls under suspicion." "My husband was not a dancer and used to ask other men, always his relations, to invite me into the dance. He'd have me sit down at table, too. He was good-natured, not jealous."



The dances 

The Tourkikos (Turkish) dance 

      This dance is also called Tourtsikos, Zeibekikos, Zeibekistikos, Zeibek (the name by which it was known in the dance-troupe competition held at Kremasti during the Italian occupation) and Monachikos (solo). Confusion with the real Monachikos arises from the fact that this is also a solo dance in that the dancer is out on his own and not attached to the circle. Today, even those who know it as the Tourkikos, refer to it as the Monachikos out of patriotism. Once upon a time a young man danced the Tourkikos and the next day the village teacher chided him: "So you danced the Tourkikos, the dance of the people we have no use for?"

      Many kinds of melody accompany the Tourkikos: Baud-Bovy records three melodies in nine-time. One is the melody of the song "An ox-cart is passing by"; the others are wordless in and time respectively. "It's similar to the Zeibekikos, it's aptal-chavasi." There is also a slow and a quick-step Tourkikos.

      The steps are the same as those of the Aftalikos, or Eptanikos (Aptalikos), but some hold then to be as in the Tsifteteli or the Karsilamas. It is an improvised male dance performed by one or, more rarely, two dancers who do not hold each other by the hand or arm. More rarely still, it may be danced by a woman, but only if a man asks his wife to dance with him. A man who was dancing the Tourkikos in Aphandou village made a sign to the players to stop their playing and danced without accompaniment until he gave them another sign to resume; he stopped them in this way two or three times. Some dancers performed on table-tops. "There was a dancer during the Turkish occupation who drew his knife and plunged it right through his calf muscle and danced with it there to impress the onlookers. He lost a lot of blood. I didn't see him, it was my mother who told me about it." 

      Men would bring musicians to the coffee-house and dance the Tourkikos, no women taking part. Turkish-Cretans used to come and dance the Zeibekikos, but the Greeks performed it better, more stylishly. The Turks, who joined in the Greek festivals when invited by a Greek friend, were able to dance only this one dance. When it was time for dances requiring participants to link hands or arms they either sat down and looked on or left. In Archangelos "at Carnival-time Zeibekikos dances were held outside the church; the dancers held knives in their hands and clashed them together during the Tourkikos dance. The women dress up as kamouzeles (camels)." 

      The Tourkikos dance gives the performers an opportunity to display their individual virtuosity and artistry. It is a more difficult dance then the Sousta: one must be an expert to perform it. "Yiorgos Avyenikos from the village of Maritsa won the 300 franc prize in the competition at Kremasti." It is the only dance which a dancer may actually "order", or request; such a request is tantamount to an instruction to the instrumentalists. Anyone else rising to his feet would be provoking a quarrel. It is always the first dance performed at a "glendi" (party) or on a church feast-day, and is followed by a Monachikos or Syrtos dance; it is not done to interrupt other dances in order to perform the Tourkikos. It is only at weddings that the married couple will first dance the Syrtos; the men then dance the Tourkikos, after which all dance the Sousta. A very early form of Tourkikos danced by elderly men was one with the song "Baglamadakia play for the young dervishes to dance”. Flevaris, a well-known violin-player, learnt it from Pontikas who was also a distinguished instrumentalist".



The Monachikos dance 

      All dances in which the performers do not hold hands go by the name of Monachikos (solo), so there is some confusion as to which is the real Monachikos - at least among those concerned with such details nowadays. Whichever it is, it always comes after the Tourkikos. When the islanders talk of the Monachikos they may be referring to the Tourkikos, the Karsilamas, the Konialis, the Ballos, or the Monachiki Sousta: Baud-Bovy has noted "a kind of Sousta, the so-called Manachikos or Monachikos", but has not recorded the melody. The distinction lies essentially in the rhythm: nine-time in the Tourkikos and two-time in the Monachikos, though this seems to be of little moment to the dancers for they dance in a free style of their own. 

     "After a Tourkikos he liked to dance a Ballos, the two performers facing each other. We called that Karsilamas. It's a kind of Syrtos with improvisations and an amanes." "The Monachikos takes over from the Syrtos, when the woman dancer comes in to her own. The Monachikos is also known as the Assos. When it begins, everyone sits out leaving only the lead dancers, both male and female, performing the Assos. It's the same as the Ballos." "They hold hands in the Ballos, but not in the Monachikos." "It's called the Koftos (Cutting) Ballos because the others cut out leaving just the couple in, as in Symi Island." "They'd tell me to play the Monachikos and then ask "Link us", then I'd switch to the Sousta." "We (the instrumentalists) would switch to the Monachikos on our own, or they'd give us a sign to do so. The Monachiki Sousta comes after the Tourkikos, when they spin round." "It's a Karsilamas but the steps are as in the Sousta." 

      These remarks suggest there is no set pattern for the Monachikos, but that the dance varies according to the village, the musician, and the individual dancer. It succeeds the Tourkikos, of clearly alien origin but now firmly established in the local repertoire, becoming the Sousta, a purely indigenous dance. Sometimes it assumes a nationalistic character: "It's a sort of Tsamikos in 2/4 time, involving twists and turns, leaps, and leg-slapping. They used to play the tune "My beloved Athens and Piraeus, my beloved blue-and-white flag", but the dancer did not sing". 

      Though it can be danced solo, it is chiefly a dance for a couple, the two dancers dancing in step and usually face-to-face, while in the Tourkikos their movements are unrelated. A woman will dance the Monachikos much more readily than the Tourkikos. "A Turkish woman danced the Monachikos with my father". At a marriage-feast in Archangelo the newly-married pair will open the dancing with a Monachikos, the others singing the while. The groom's father will also dance a Monachikos with his mother. It's also danced on the way to church, the wedding procession halting at any suitable point. The singer sang: "Dance a Monachikos at the entrance to the best man's lane". 

      As this dance is open to individual interpretation, the dancer "pays the piper", that is, he pays the musicians before he takes the floor and, if he so wish, may call for the tune of his choice. In the case of other dances, the dancer approaches the players in the course of the dance or when it ends; in other words, he does not call the tune. 

In the course of a dance in which the dancers hold hands or link arms the violinist may switch in to a Monachikos without any sign from the lead dancer,. The vocalist may call for this in a rhyming couplet: "Play the Monachikos, so it will occur to me what to sing".



The Sousta dance 

      The Sousta (spring) is the chief dance of Rhodes: "It was no dance at all without a Sousta". "In days gone by the used to call it the Pano. That was when they still played the lyre"; "and they switched to the Pano". Monachikoi dances are only a prelude, as it were, to the Sousta which everyone is waiting to dance. At a wedding in Koskinou they always start with the Sousta, the other dances coming later. They used to dance it for two or three days and nights on end. Time was when they would sing as they danced the Sousta, fast though it be: "they began to sing as they danced". They seldom danced the Sousta in Rhodes city. The left leg has to be dragged as if it were paralyzed. The lead dancer does not request a particular Sousta, but if he wants a change may say "Play us a Syrtos". 

      Every village has its own Sousta. The Embona version includes agile leaps, while in Asklipios, while its is still a leaping dance, it is more staid. The most renowned Sousta is the Embona one, being more impressive than the dance seen in Archangelos or Salako. A different rhythm colors the Chalki dance. The Kremasti and Trianda versions are more even in character. "The best Sousta, the most delicate, is the one from Asklipio; the villagers leap more agile. Asklipios folk are outstanding in the Sousta: they dance as one". "The villagers of Embona and Kastellos are the best dancers. The Sousta danced in Embona is the genuine Rhodian Sousta. The other islanders try to copy them." "They leap about as they dance the Sousta in Embona." "If the instrumentalist dropped down dead the villagers of Chalki would go on dancing".



The Ballos dance 

"After the Tourkikos, one wanted a Ballos. A kerchief is held waist high between the dancer's two hands; he moves backwards and forwards, shaking the kerchief." Two people dance the Ballos: it is a Karsilamas. The married couple dance it on their own, facing each other. "The Ballos and the Monachikos are one and the same. Symi islanders called it the Ballos, we (in Paradeisi) the Monachikos." "They dance and sing the Ballos-manes like the Syrtos. The Syrto-manes is the same thing, when the Syrtos is accompanied by song. But there's no such thing as the Sousta-manes: they call that the sung Sousta. You dance the Ballos-manes (tune) solo."



The Kritikos dance 

      This is the dance now performed by dance groups throughout Greece and known as the Rhodian Pidhichtos (leaping dance). It must have been so named by a dance instructor, because it is unknown by this name in Rhodes. Rhodians always called it Kritikos (Cretan), the name by which it should be known. They probably acquired it from Cretans who took refuge in Rhodes at the time of the Ottoman occupation of Crete, but no earlier since it is not to be found in islands such as Karpathos and Kassos which lie closer to Crete. 

      The steps are as in the Cretan dance which came to be call the Chaniotikos, though they are more springy and have a different, quite specific, melody. It was not a customary dance, and in many villages was quite unknown. It follows the same procedure as the Sousta, with koustieres and other such features.



The Kalamatianos dance 

Children used to learn the Kalamatianos (from Kalamata, a town in Peloponnesus) dance at school, singing songs of a patriotic character as they danced. On the 25th of March (national holiday of Greece, commemorating the revolution against the Turks) each year they would dress as Evzones (soldiers of the Greek national guard). This was largely the situation under the Turks and at the outset of the Italian occupation (1912-43) when tolerance was shown, but circumstances changed around 1930. The children's teachers were either from Greece or were Rhodian women who had studied in Athens. They occasionally danced the Kalamatianos on local feast-days. They learnt no other dance at school.



The Tsamikos dance 

This dance seems to have been generally unknown. In Soroni: "After 1912 it was danced by a father wearing baggy trews and supported by one of his sons; then the son took over. He learnt it from his master (his father) who was from the Mani. The leading dancer would plunge his knife in the ground and somersault over it. He also juggled with his knife. Once he danced to the music played by an Italian ensemble".



The Zervodexos dance 

The instrumentalists vary the melody as the dancers are moving forwards, whereupon they reverse direction. In slow time the movement is to the left - a difficult movement; in fast it is to the right. They link hands as for the Sousta. The Zervodexos (the word means “left and right”) is a kind of Syrtos, danced to the melody of "Mia Kyriaki imera" (It was one Sunday). It begins slowly, the dancers moving to the right. Eight dancers take part, the men and women in alternate positions, the two groups of four forming a circle, for at the time they held their dances indoors. It is performed towards the end of wedding celebrations, and if folk are in high spirits during any other merrymaking. "We rarely played it, and it was abandoned when Syrtos dances became the fashion. It used to be danced in Aphandou with different steps and to a different melody, without words.



The Symi Sousta dance 

They called it the Symiakos, the Symian dance, in Kremasti. Symi islanders living in Rhodes used to dance it in pairs but the man did not stalk the woman, as in Symi, but moved in circles round her.


The Rinaki dance 

The dance that usually ends a wedding celebration, the other being the Kato. It has its own music, a sort of Karotseri melody. The dancers hold each other round the shoulders, as in the Vlacha dance, and make the same steps. 



The Serviko or Servikos (Serbian) dance 

Men only used to dance this, holding one another round the shoulders. It resembles a fast Vlacha.




The Vlacha dance 

Danced on any occasion, the dancers, both men and women, hold each other round the shoulders. The melody is the one of the song "From a foreign land and far away". It is known also as the Servikos, and sometimes is performed at the end of a wedding. "The leading man pulled the others after him. You had to be a good woman dancer and react fast".



The Karotseris (coachman) dance 

Some know it as the Servikos, others as the Vlacha. Again, the arms are thrown around the shoulders. In Kritinia "they didn't know the Servikos and Karotseris. I learnt them in the island of Nissyros, and introduced them here. There was someone else who knew them, too, and gradually they caught on. Women seldom danced them for the men leaped too fast. We also call it the Chasapikos."




The Tselis Andras dance 

Many dancers, both men and women, held each other with one hand on the shoulder of the adjacent dancer. The Tselis Andras (bold man, from the lyrics of the song) used to be danced mostly in Aphandou and Archangelos, though differently in each place. In Aphandou they moved to the left, hands held in the usual manner or crossing each other.



The Tzenevetos dance 

"It was performed only in Aphandou to a single melody; men and women danced in a circle, hands held and arms crossed; a plain dance, nothing showy; the song is full of banter. It's danced on the last day of a wedding feast, on the Wednesday, in the closing celebrations".




The Konialis dance 

Danced by one or two men, there was one man who danced with a couple of glasses in his hands. In Konialis (from Konia, a town in Asia Minor) they brandished knives. "Just one man danced it here; he gripped the table in his teeth and lifted it, squatted low and lifted it again with its glasses." The Konialis resembles the Tsifteteli. They used to call it the Vlacha or Hasaposerviko. It's a kind of Syrtos Zeibekikos, rather like the Arapikos. "People from our village often went to Asia Minor and got to know the dances well". "Men and women held each other round the shoulders in Konialis." "It's the Bes Kazali or Bes Katzali, and is danced solo".

The Kato dance 

      The Kato (low) dance is danced solely at the end of a wedding celebration by the couple' s relatives, the two families jointly singing wedding songs, sometimes of a persuasive or laudatory nature: "We gave you a good groom, a good bride". Hands are held as in the Sousta and the steps are a walking rhythm even elderly folk must join in. 

      In Yennadi the dancers are linked "with their arms resting on the shoulders, and they sing as their feet move backwards and forwards. The groom and his bride lead the dance, the rest following. In the Kato the groom's relations would be paired with the bride's. And we'd play the melody around the "sperveri". 

      In Vati they hold hands as in the Sousta, the groom and the bride first and then each of the male relations with his koustiera, the married couple now at the end of the line. They invite the dead to join in: "Bring so-and-so along", "Ah, if only my mother were alive", "Come and see your daughter"; and there are tearful scenes. Young folk under seventeen don't take part. In Kallithies and Archangelo they dance the Kato first while singing "Come among us, Holy Virgin". They form up with one group of relations in the lead, then the married couple, and finally the other group. 

      In Koskinou the dancers leave the floor after the Kato except for the married couple. Elsewhere the Kato is called the Sperveri, and is danced less often. In Maritsa the Kato is danced on the second day of the wedding when the couple is awakened. The bride and groom are in the house and the door is closed; when the singing starts outside they open the door and begin to dance the Kato within the house. The song accompanying the dance praises the newly-weds. Hands are held as in the Sousta, arms crossed over each other. In Aphandou they call the Kato Androino; it's the first and last dance performed at a wedding, being followed by the Sousta in the beginning. 

      In Lardo the Kato is accompanied by flattering verses ("kanakia"). For the most part the dancers are the singers, too, but guests also join in. It's the last dance of the main celebration of the wedding, after which the close relations stay behind and dance the Sousta, their arms on each other's shoulders, in this order: groomsman, groom, bride, maid of honor, and then the relations. Each of the sponsors holds a lighted candle.



The Sympetheristikos dance 

The Sympetheristikos (meaning “of the in-laws”) is a particular dance performed in Maritsa by the families of the bride and groom in the village square before they enter the church. The bride and groom do not join in, but remain seated on one side. Hands are held as in the Sousta; the music is peculiar to the dance, comprising two musical phrases, without words. The groom's father and his relations lead off followed by the bride's relations, but occasionally this order is reversed. Only brothers and sisters and cousins participate. Even a grandfather of ninety years had to join in and his elderly wife had to put on a white kerchief to dance. That was the only dance performed at that time.



The Vatani dance 

In Maritsa "on Saturday evening the musicians would leave the groom' s home when the meal was over, taking the bride's family with them, and make for the couple's new home (that is, carrying the bride's dowry, for in those days the groom went in the trousers he was wearing; in other words he left his home without a patrimony). There the two kindred groups were brought together; they sang the Sperveri and danced the Vatani. The couple sat out, neither dancing nor singing. The steps are the same as in the Kritikos, one forward and two back". Hands are held as in the Sousta. It's the same in Asklipios. The Sperveri is not a dance; the Vatani is a linked dance like the Sousta. In Kritinia it's seen only at weddings; there they hold hands as in the Syrtos, usually women only but sometimes men too.



The Gaitanaki dance 

      A mixed dance performed in Kritinia and favored chiefly by women. It is accompanied by the song "You sewed five ribbons on the hem of the dress" (the speaker explained the ribbons were always five in number) or "My bushy orange tree, my russet apple". At festivals and weddings it is usually danced like the Sousta. In Aphandou the Gaitanatsi is a satirical, mixed dance, the arms held crosswise.



The Tsakiris dance 

In this instance it is the groomsman who is extolled. The dancers, both men and women, hold each other with crossed arms. The song is "The groom is worth his weight in gold".



The Gries (old women) dance 

Danced at the wedding feast but only by old women, and accompanied by the song "Come, old women and young maids, join the dance and link hands".



The Michanikos (sponge-diver) dance 

A well known but not widely distributed dance, requested by outsiders, especially islanders from Chalki. The lead dancer held a staff in one hand.



The Piperi (pepper) dance 

"This is danced for amusement. Someone holds a length of rope and ties a knot in his kerchief or belt and lashes the others in jest. It's all good fun, no offense given or taken". It is danced in all the villages, nearly always by men. On the second or third day of a wedding in Aphandou they come out on to the streets, collect chickens and food from the houses, and dance the Piperi and other dances in the village squares, accompanied by musicians and the newly-weds.



T' Alamoustou dance 

Another of those amusing dances, like the Piperi, performed only by men either at the end of the wedding-feast or when they are making merry on their own and are in high spirits. As they dance with hands joined as in the Syrtos they place one leg over their arms. They sing "Alamoustou, moustou, moustou, and aromatic sweet-basil" or "I had a good wife who ate bread enough for ten", and leap in the air. The dance is known as "Dog-nuptials" when, their arms beneath their legs, they behave as dogs mating.



The Alazinga or Alasvinga dance 

A dance similar to the preceding one; only the words are different. On the second evening of the wedding "they dance the Alazinga. Alazinga is the name of the dance, Piperi is the name of the song. They say "Whoever wants to may leave", then they close the door and begin the dance. Many women left at this point." "As the dancing ended on the Sunday evening of the marriage, the girls left, only men remained behind, not even married women stayed on. Then they danced the Alazinga. The newly-weds didn't take part, but were present. The lead dancer sang, the others repeating his words; there were no miming movements, the performance resting on the song. At the end the rhythm quickened, the dancers placed their legs over one arm, and holding kerchief moved forward in leaps."



With my aunt Irene 

This is a Syrtos, but with miming gestures, danced by elderly men and women only in Aphandou.



The Sotira dance 

The dancers sing "One Sunday I passed by Saint Sotira's and a wretched widow was washing her skirt". At every second step they bend their knees with their legs outspread.



The Arapikos dance 

A solo dance, mostly for men, like the Syrtotsifteteli, with shaking movements. It was danced at weddings. "Two people (would dance it), like the Monachikos but with different steps; it's similar to the Tourkikos." "Only Krizas used to dance the Arapikos. He'd been brought up in Asia Minor, and danced it like the Konialis. Others learnt it from him later on". "Two men dance it, making indecent movements as if copulating; that's after midnight when they're in their cups." "The Kamouzeles used to dance it in the street at Carnival time". "Two men would dance the Arapikos during Carnival. They'd first make two circles, then one would drop down as if dead and the other would mourn him; then he'd get up and they'd dance together again". "They don't dance the true Arapikos at Carnival time, but another dance that resembles the "camel dance", performed as bears might dance it. "The Kamouzeles danced the Arapikos on Shrove Monday; no women took part. They went outside the village. It's a comical dance." "Sponge-divers brought it back from the Barbary coast. A man and woman can dance it together; the woman lies on the ground and the man lifts her up and cradles her as he dances".


The Ovraikos (Jewish) dance 

The Jews who lived in the Old City of Rhodes for centuries had their own dances. A study has been made of the dances of the Jews of Rhodes who emigrated to America. Panayiotis Balos of Embona, an eighty years-old violinist, told me: "I used to play the Ovraikos for Avramis who kept a shop in the village. He'd hold his head and dance. I don't remember how it went. It was fast, like the Konialis. They moved their legs backwards and forwards". Others say the Ovraikos was a solo dance and was like the Arapikos. "Sevasti, Stavrakis' wife, used to dance the Ovraikos. She was the only one that could. She had seen the Jewish women who came every Saturday to Koufa's (where the airport is today) and watched them. She stood very erect, her feet moving rapidly".



European dances 

      European dances began to become known when Italy annexed the Dodecanese islands. The violinists slowly mastered the melodies and from the 1920s onwards villagers started to perform these dances. There was a dancing instructor in Rhodes city who taught them. Country folk drew the line at dances requiring partners to embrace, though they held each other quite closely in the Sousta. "They played the Tango and Borka for the doctor who had studied abroad." "On leaving home the couple dance a waltz or a tango or a mazurka, and then everyone proceeds to the church." "Then came the dances in which they held each other tight: the Broom or One-step. Ten couples would dance the Borka (polka), one man on his own clutching a broom. When they shouted "Changez les dames! (Sangeleta!) he'd look around for a girl to partner him." "During the Borka couples would dance a mazurka. One of the dancers would shout out "Promenade!" and they'd change partners. A cad would cry "Promenade!" to take a girl away from her beau". The Borka is a slow waltz.



The dance cure at Saint Merkourios' chapel 

      "When someone had earache he'd go to the little chapel of Saint Merkourios. He'd be locked up there, and he'd dance all the dances he knew till he was cured. They used to say, "He'll dance at Saint Merkourios". "He'd put a measure of barley before the Saint's image for his horse to eat and some oil from a sanctuary lamp in his ear and dance before the Saint and leap about all alone".



The dancer's attire 

    "A good dancer must wear good clothes: it's your dress that shows off. He must have hand-woven breeches - breeches from Asia Minor if he's an only son, or at any rate a young unmarried lad - a yellow and red waist-band with tassels from Kastelorizo Island, ankle-boots, waistcoat, a felt cap, a collar embroidered with silk, a white kerchief also from Kastelorizo fastened to the belt, a colored neckerchief (a large one for a woman)... A married man would leave them all to his son." "I used to wear felt breeches; my drawers were made of eleven piks of cloth (about seven meters). when I twirled round as I danced the bag of my breeches would strike the woman next to me." 

      There was no right or left footwear for women, which is why they were called "singles"; they were worn in the fields. The best were white ("doubles"); they were worn around the village so they didn't get dirty. "Doubles" were what men's ankle-boots, worn on formal occasions such as festivals, were called; women wore them less often. All the villages participated in the Kremasti competition, and it was the Embona women who wore boots with no heels that took the prizes: you'd have thought they were walking on air." They wore wooden pattens indoors. When men and women wore shoes they would wear stockings and breeches. Men's breeches were wide, the women's narrow. 

      They wore a shirt in such a way as to display its embroidery, and a skirt. Men and women wore ankle-boots in the lowland villages, but more often shoes and stockings, the latter white or colored but never black. The people of Salako took pride in their embroidered breeches. The breeches worn by Embona women were like bloomers and not visible. Embroidered breeches were worn in Salako, Fanes, Soroni, and Archangelo and were always white. The skirt was the same in every village, long in Salako and short in Embona. It was white or blue - or black for widows - and lacked ribbon decoration. In Amalia they wore a "sack", a kind of chemise, over everything, a custom originating in Paradeisi. In mountain villages apron ribbons are a matter of taste, for they have no surviving symbolism. Greeks wore breeches, Turks baggy pantaloons.



Musical instruments 

      Musical instruments are commonly known as "paichnidia” (playthings): "they brought some good paichnidia", "he plays a good instrument". The "play-man" is the instrumentalist. The most important instrument used to be the "lyra" (three-stringed fiddle), replaced early this century, even before the Italians came, by the violin. The lute, known as the tamboura, held second place in an instrumental ensemble or, more rarely, the dulcimer (santouri). The clarinet was introduced by the Italians, and accompanied the Sousta. There was also the trumpet (cornet, trombone), but such wind instruments accompanied dances other than the Sousta. The tsambouna or touloumi (bagpipes) were lesser instruments and were never heard at festivals. They were played by a number of people, mostly shepherds, but only at private gatherings where it might accompany the Sousta. Only the Turks had percussion instruments; where Turkish women gathered together they would dance to the rhythm of tambourines and cymbals. 

      Every village boasted its own fiddler and lutanist. Each village would bring its own instrumentalists to a public merrymaking, such as the Kremasti competition. "Every violinist played his own version of the Sousta. He'd learn something from his teacher, but would create something different of his own. Both the fingering and the bowing would be different. If there were two violins in an ensemble, only one of them would play the Sousta, while they'd all play other dance tunes together". 

An instrumentalist would not get up to dance unless he found someone to replace him. The fiddler could get up and go round the lead dancer, but not dance himself. Some fiddlers would show off by holding their instrument up in the air or even behind their head while continuing to play it. "There was a time when they'd raise their instruments and play close beside the dancer while walking forward in order to egg him on. But we didn't do that: we played fiddles, and they couldn't be heard. The violin is a much louder instrument, so the dancer would fork out more money that way and give it to the fiddler. Fiddlers made their own instruments, but not the violin-players." 

      Instrumentalists who acquired a name for themselves and were invited to play in other villages were the violinist Miltiadis of Trianda village and the fiddler Pontikas of Aphandou. Instrument playing rarely ran in families, nor was an instrument connected with a particular occupation. Jews played the mandolin and sometimes the oud (outi). No woman ever plays a musical instrument.




      To show his appreciation of a dancer one would call to him “Yeia sou!” (Health to you) and throw some coin to the players or attach paper money to their instruments. At Fanes village they used to throw gold coins to the dulcimer player or slap paper notes on his forehead. Before starting to dance you have to put something in the musicians' plate or slip paper money into an instrument, much as saints' icons were treated. Paper money was stuck on the forehead. A woman might do this for her husband or son, but never a young unmarried girl, for this would be to make a public spectacle of herself. Nor can a woman request a particular dance. A singer is not paid except by the householder who invites him. One throws coins to the violin player; previously one stuck notes on his forehead. Bystanders may do this on behalf of a dancer. It is also possible to dance without paying. Players at a festival are paid by the owner of the site; later one may give whatever money he likes. You have to throw something to the players before getting a woman to join the dance. 

      At Lardo, if someone wants to get others to contribute something in honor of the lead dancer, he shouts out: "The bowl for the leading man!". He's the first to throw something in to it, and the others follow. He may shout out this phrase as a signal that he wants to take over the leading position. The instrumentalists share their takings with the church. The players are always seated in the middle of the circle, the violinist often rising to his feet to play beside the lead dancer, staying close to him all the while. A bowl is put out to receive a collection for the church at a religious festival. Three dishes are put out at a wedding: one for the barber, one for the vocalist, and one for the musicians. Dancing does not take place near the latter's dish, so payment takes the form of sticking notes. One metaliki, grosi (piastre), or metziki= 5 piastres. Musicians are not paid in advance, but in the course of a dance.



Clerics and the dance 

      There are great differences between one village and the next in respect of the priest's attitude to dancing. "The dance music struck up in Nissyros, but no one began to dance. The bishop asked why this was and when told that a priest had to open the proceedings he pushed the local priest forward." In Yennadhi and Arnitha it was the priests who lead the first dance. The story is told of a priest in Soroni who was a lutanist before he was ordained, and a dancer too; indeed he had won the first prize for dancing at Kremasti. After conducting the marriage ceremony for his daughter he played the lute and danced with gusto. In Kremasti the priest attends the dancing, but would bring shame upon himself if he or his wife were to dance. Once the bishop was observed beating time with his foot as the Sousta was being danced and attracted adverse comment from the people around.



Conduct of a dance 

The dance begins 

      In Kritinia the men would assemble at the coffee-shops or in the church grounds and summon the musicians. Dancing in the houses was reserved for weddings; all other dancing was in the village square. The women came along when they heard the music playing; sometimes we rang the church bell (for men). When we were ready to begin the dance we formed up in a circle, the young lads sat on chairs in the center, the women stood outside the circle. Wherever you got yourself a drink you also got the chairs. The players were in the middle too; no one remained outside with the women, neither an old man nor a young one, The old 'uns wanted to sing and stayed close to the players." In Lardo they placed pine-wood torches on top of a pillar to provide light when they danced at night.



The invitation 

      To invite a girl to dance you say "Oriste" (come). You'd ask her father, if he were present, her brother or mother, if she'd come to the dance it was in order for her to join in. 

If you'd fallen out with her family you didn't ask her to dance. Between friends and relatives you could ask permission to invite another man's wife. Men seldom danced alone; usually there were women there too. If you'd been once or twice to her parents' house you could take her hand and get her to dance; otherwise her mother would address her sharply: "Child, he's not to get close to you" - in other words he was to keep his distance so he couldn't take the girl by her hand. "That's what the kerchiefs were for: to keep hands away from the bosom. A woman might say to her husband dancing near to her: "Here, this man's putting his hand on my breasts!", and he would answer: "Don't worry, they won't shrivel!" 

      Courtesy required you to offer a girl a kerchief when asking her to dance, so no one could say "so-and-so's daughter held hands with so-and-so"; otherwise she would offer you her kerchief. It is the man then who is obliged to make a show of offering his kerchief, shaking it out and giving a corner of it to the woman with whom he would dance. The lead dancer holds a kerchief by his left hand so he has enough space in which to leap and crouch, his right hand making patterns in the air. He doesn't have to offer a kerchief to his wife, if he's not intending to make any lively movements. Someone may be drunk and squeeze a woman's hand; that's what the kerchief is for. He may purposely step on her foot. "If you squeeze her hand, the girl may drop out of the dance". So a man holds his koustiera by the kerchief in his left hand; the kerchief in his right hand belongs to the girl who is not his koustiera. Syrtos dancers hold each other with kerchiefs, and as in the Sousta both the first and the last dancers must be men. 

      Any man courageous enough to seek out a girl to dance with him must beg pardon of her father or brother or mother or of whomever is accompanying her. "If the father's there, you'll ask his permission." There was a time when to invite a girl directly to dance was tantamount to a proposal of marriage. "A girl begins to attend merry-makings, with her father's permission, at 16 or 17 years of age, when her thoughts first turn to love. Youths begin to take their place in company when they are 18. Whatever your age, you can't sit down if your father is already seated until you are married." A man from another village can dance only if he has a friend who will give him his koustieres. A woman can break in to a dance between two other women. When there are no women a man may dance with a man, but women do not dance together in public. 

      Each of the first, second, and third dancers wears a different air. The musician plays in accordance with your dancing: the better you dance, the better he plays. No one dancer performs the same steps as another, but follows his own instinct. If one is a good dancer, the rest will follow his lead. If you're a good dancer the others will rise to their feet "to shower you", that is, to toss money to the musician. "A star performer!", all acclaim. "The rascal, he's a winner!" "Your health, good man, you're a fine lad!" Exclamations include "your health! Long life! Bravo! Opa! A splendid dancer!" A good woman dancer is recognized by the rhythm of her foot movements.




      Rows may break out over a misunderstanding of the words of a song or a girl's hand being squeezed. In the latter event the girl bridles and lets her brother or fiancee know about it. If you want to upset a dancer you interrupt his movements: "I've another turn to make and you come to cut me out?" A violinist from Maritsa recounts how he found himself in trouble: "One Easter outside the church I made a mistake in the order of playing and got a chair over my head." "If you're going to dance you have to be drunk; you can't dance sober".




Girls gave no occasion for a misunderstanding, but connived with their eyes. When the dancing was over and they were wending their way home they gossiped among themselves: "So-and-so danced with so-and-so. He loves her and wants to wed her."



Learning to dance 

      The women used to teach each other. They would lock themselves into a house and sing unaccompanied. It was the same with the men, who learnt in a more easy fashion. In Paradeisi, "The women danced and sang on their own in the home. They'd invite along two or three young lads they were fond of. Each of them gave the violinist an egg and he played for them in the village square; they'd be lasses of 15 or 16 years of age. When we rang the church-bell the girls assembled and we danced, all of us youngsters. The girls learn from each other. One of them played tunes on a comb with a cigarette-paper; she could play anything."



Occasions for dancing 


      Corn was ground on the Sunday preceding a wedding. Relatives and invited guests brought along wheat for the wedding loaves. This provided an opportunity for a little dancing. On the Thursday they baked the honeycakes and again there was some dancing, mostly by women, without musical accompaniment. They even danced the Sousta without music, but singing the while, despite the derisive saying: "How can the mad dance without the fiddle and violin?". 

They might even dance on their own while white-washing the house. They went on foot to the church where the relatives might stop outside to have a dance or two. There was no dancing though on departure. 

When the bride was from another village a celebration was held at the groom's home on the Saturday, and on the Sunday (of the wedding) at the bride's where the couple was to remain. During the three days following the wedding they danced at the newly-weds' home, but first went to the coffee-house to get drunk and then made their way to the house. They dressed up as camels at the wedding and danced the Piperi.




      Zeibekiko dances were performed outside the church during Carnival, the dancers brandishing knives and clashing them while performing Turkish dances. Women dressed up as "kamouzeles" and jumped about with bells tied around their waist. They wore false noses and danced flirtatiously, like men with women; and there were elderly men dressed as kamouzeles (disguised carnival revelers). They mimed marriage, danced the Kato in jest, and pretended to give birth to a child and to cradle it in their arms. The kamouzeles acted the part of a pregnant woman. They danced the Arapikos, the Piperi, and all the other dances. "Everyone had to do something of his own to make the others laugh. One held a cord and pulled on it till an old roof-tile came out of his trousers while he was dancing".




      Every village has its own dance for a major festival. Villagers from elsewhere were reluctant to join in such a dance and sought to be excused.



The Kouphas coffee-shop 

      At one time it was all the fashion to go to Kouphas near Paradeisi, where the airport is today. Stamatia Diakosavva, born in 1904, relates her memories: "We'd go along to Kouphas' at one o’clock (midday) and sit down apart from the company. Young girls would sit on the parapets. That was every Sunday and on holidays: on the feasts of Saint Soulas, the Virgin, and Saint Nicholas. Dancing went on till ten and the girls left at sunset. Married women could stay if they were with their husband. Papamichalis who played the violin later became a priest. If he saw you were a good dancer his violin seemed to sing to you. You'd order the coffee-house keeper to "Take her a glass of syrup-water that one who's in love with us". Then you'd call over the old hawker selling pumpkin-seed and send him to give her a measure. When you got the coffee-house man to treat her on your behalf she could refuse the offer if she wished. You looked into her eyes, and if she lowered her head you went over to her and led her off in to the dance.



Other occasions 

      There was no dancing here at Easter, nor at Christmas or on Saint John's feast-day. But they did dance on Koukoumas Day. In Rhodes city dancing was only in the houses: they had big rooms and courtyards where they could hold weddings and baptisms and lay on feasts. "There were three or four detached houses with vaulted rooms and there they held festivities with music on the initiative of the young folk on feastdays. I played for whatever I got, money or eggs". 

      In wintertime, especially at Christmas, the young men of Maritsa would designate a house in which all the village folk were free to participate in the dancing. Every Sunday evening in summer there was dancing at the coffee-house; the women sat out on stools or stood around. At Easter-time dances were held in the forecourt of the church during the afternoons of Easter Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. From time to time in Kremasti, usually on a Sunday afternoon, the young men together with the village musicians would arrange a dance in one of the larger houses or on one of the village squares. The girls came along too - though always with a parent or elder relative - and joined in the dancing.



The Kremasti dance competition 

      The Italian governor Mario Longo attached great importance to local customs and in about 1925 proclaimed a dance competition in which all the villages were to compete in local costume. The competition was an annual event until the governorship changed hands around 1938, close to the outbreak of war. On the orders of the new governor, the mayor of Kremasti and a church committee undertook the organization. Prizes were awarded, and were usually won by the villagers of Embona. They and the people of Kastellos were the best dancers and wore the finest costumes. In both Kremasti and other coastal villages the costumes were of conventional island design, while Embona and Kastellos had their own particular hand-woven and embroidered costumes. The Kremasti festival falls during the nine-day period following the feast of the Dormition of the Virgin on the 15th of August. The dance competition was on the evening of the 22nd of August and was held in the church enclosure, one village performing after another. Six or seven villages entered, each with about fifteen dancers and its own musicians. The judging committee comprised both local and outside members. After the annexation of the Dodecanese to Greece an attempt was made to revive the competition, but it failed for lack of interest on the part of the nomarch (provincial governor).




      The foregoing text comprises one part of an unelaborated mass of material collected in the course of research carried out in the various localities. It calls for a particular approach by the reader since it contains successive phrases uttered by a variety of individuals, some of which are irrelevant or contradictory. Most of the facts about these dances and the customs connected with them are unknown to contemporary Rhodians. Almost certainly they would have been forgotten sooner had not the Dodecanese islands remained under foreign sway until 1947. 

      We find a large repertory of dances divided into two categories, solo and linked dances. The arrangement of the dancers forming the circle is slightly different to that in Karpathos, but falls within the general framework of Dodecanesian dances, as do the dance customs associated with them.



Alkis Raftis



Translated by John Leatham and the author
Published in Greek in: Alkis Raftis,  Dance, culture and society (in Greek). Athens, Greek Dances Theater, 1992
and in the book:    Alkis Raftis: The dance in Rhodes (in Greek), Athens, Greek Dances Theater, 2003.


Friday the 24th. Alkis Raftis Personal website.