Sirtaki (alternatively spelled syrtaki) is one of the most popular Greek dances.
Opposite to common belief, sirtaki is not a traditional Greek dance , but was created and choreographed with the use of specific elements belonging to other types of Greek dance.
Sirtaki is actually the name given to the combination of various Hasapika dances. In fact, it was created in 1964 for the movie Zorba the Greek from the mixture of slow and fast versions of the known Hasapiko dance.
The birth of sirtaki dance
The name Sirtaki or Syrtaki comes from the Greek word “syro” and “syrtos” (which means dragged), a common name for a group of traditional Greek dances of the “dragging” style, which is opposite to pidiktos, the leaping type of dance.
In general, we can say that Sirtaki incorporates elements from both dances, the syrtos (in its slower part) and pidiktos (in its faster part).
In the most memorable and absolutely greater scenes from the movie Zorba the Greek, the homonym character Alexis Zorbas (who is played by Anthony Quinn), is asked by his uptight, boss, Basil (Alan Bates plays this man) to teach him how to dance – as a first approach to the Greek way of life.
Surprised, the spirited Zorba responds with the words: “Dance? Did you say, dance?!” And the movies ends with both men dancing sirtaki on the lovely Cretan beach of Stavros in Akrotiri Peninsula.
It was said that Anthony Quinn had a serious problem with his leg and could not actually dance, and he had to drag his leg in order to shoot certain scenes. However the music composed by Mikis Theodorakis was inspiring and uplifting and gave the choreographer the chance to create this type of dance that would become internationally known and recognized.
This dance which is shown at the end of the movie became much later the most distinctive Greek dance and was named Sirtaki.
Even if by chance, you haven’t seen Zorba, you have to be at least familiar the main title theme and the song, which, among other things, has been used at various commercials and sport events for years to uplift the spirits and encourage the fans to root for the home teams.
Sirtaki is danced in a line – and in some cases in circle formation – with the hands holding the other person’s shoulders. Line formation is considered the traditional way of dancing.
The sirtaki is danced mainly in live stages and music taverns in Greece along with the traditional dances such as the Zembekiko, Tsifteteli and Karsilamas. In this case it is usually danced in lines of five to ten persons, but anyone can join in. If you visit Greece and join a Greek night you will see that sirtaki is danced by dance groups.
The dance meter is 4/4, with an increasing tempo, and often the sequence changes to 2/4 in the fastest parts.
Accordingly, the dance begins with slow and smooth moves that gradually transform into fast , vivid actions that include leaping and hopping – which are both fun to do and watch.
Meaning of Sirtaki
Although not a typical or traditional Greek dance, Sirtaki is probably the most popular one, not only due to Zorba’s charming figure, but because it is an indispensable and expressive part of Greek kefi, which is the Greek way of having fun.
Besides being a physical and emotional way to express feelings, this dance, in other words, is associated with the unleashing of the Greek spirit and the collaboration of spirit, body and mind at the same time.
During sirtaki dance, the social bonds among men and women and among the group of dancers regardless of gender, age or any other difference , as well with the overflowing emotions that create and sustain kefi, are absolutely authentic.
It is hard to explain, but once you dance Sirtaki for the first time you will feel as if you are part of a greater group, even if you don’t know the rest of people dancing with you.
Whatever your nationality, political theory, age, gender, social status, or even skill level on dancing Sirtaki, it is not possible not to feel “Greek” and experience kefi . Put differently, this amazing experience of participating in a group of people who dance together under the same spirit and kefi encourages and challenges each one of us to let our inner “Zorba free.”