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Pentozali

The dance of Daskalogiannis´ insurrection
The evolution of the ancient "yporchima"

At the beginning of 1762, the empress Elizabeth of Russia was succeeded by her nephew Peter the third. Six months later his wife, Catherine, conspired with her lover, the general Gregory Orloff, and other members of the imperial guard to overturn and assassinate Peter. She became the empress of Russia as Catherine the second, the well-known Catherine the Great. The brothers of Gregory Orloff, Alexei and Theodore, who were both in the army, were among the leaders of the coup d´etat, while the Greek sergeant of the imperial guard Georgios Papazolis or Papazoglou from Siatista of Macedonia also took part in the conspiracy. The promises of the Orloff brothers that the Russians were determined to liberate Greece misled the Greeks to an unsuccessful insurrection in 1770 which is known as "Orloffika".

Among those who believed the Orloffs´ promises was Ioannis Vlahos or Daskalogiannis, a merchant and ship owner from Anopolis, in Sfakia. His four huge three-masted ships went to the ports of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. One of the ports that he often approached was Trieste. He was well-known to the Greeks there as the "fierce patriot of Crete" and one of the first who contacted the Orloff brothers. IoannisVlahos was a handsome man, with a sweet demeanour and polite manners. He was wealthy, with a lively way of thinking and lively actions, courageous and smart and he was particularly eloquent. All these made his co-patriots accept as a leader. As he was educated and could speak foreign languages, he was honourably called "daskalos" (teacher). "Daskalos" became "Daskalogiannis" and the insurrection that he instigated and organised in Crete in 1770, started from Sfakia, was known as the "Daskalogiannis´ revolution". Being convinced for the future powerful help of Russia towards Greece, he invited in the autumn of 1769 all his chief-fighters and the elders from the villages nearby in an assembly and informed them of the future insurrection of the Greeks.

Although there were some hesitations, finally everyone trusted him and agreed on the beginning of the struggle. A legend that was widely spread in the 18th century contributed to this. It said: "The time has come for the Greeks to liberate themselves from the Turks with the help of the blonde people" that is the Russians. According to tradition, the final decision for the revolution that started in the Easter 1770 was taken in the assembly on 10th October 1769. The leaders of the revolution were 12 and had Daskalogiannis as their captain. We do not know if the rest were of the same rank, but their names are saved in the following order thanks to the popular memory.

  1. Protopappas, Daskalogiannis´ uncle.
  2. Georgios Daskalakis or Sapolis Daskalogiorgakis, of the Daskalinos family from Kallikratis.
  3. Antroulis Morakis or Koutroumpas, of the Moros family from Askifou.
  4. Manousakas, of the Pattakos family from Imbros.
  5. Androulios Voloudakis or Vardakas, of the Pattakos family from Imbros.
  6. Stratis Vordoumpas or Bourbahis of the Stratikos family from Ombrosgialos (Chora Sfakion).
  7. Manousos Koutsoumpas of the Stratikos family from Ombrosgialos (Chora Sfakion).
  8. Georgios Skordilis of the Skordilis family from Mouri.
  9. Georgios Pateros or Paterogiorgis from the Pateros family from Anopoli.
  10. Manousos Bonatos of the Bonatos family from Agios Ioannis.
  11. Hourdos from the Hourdos family from Agios Ioannis.

According to tradition, Daskalogiannis and his captains decided to dance a new war dance. Daskalogiannis sent a letter to the violin player Stefanos Triantafillakis or Kioro inviting him to Anopolis to prepare a "pyrrhic" dance especially written for the "fifth zalo". In this way he told him secretly that the fifth insurrection is being prepared against the Turks and since he was talking about dancing he used the word "zalos" which means step, thus encrypting the message. So, Kioros went there and stayed for six months until the beginning of the revolution. Based on the pyrrhic melody he composed music for the new war dance, which should have, according to Daskalogiannis´ suggestions, twelve music tunes (turns) and ten steps because as it was mentioned earlier, the leaders of the revolution were twelve, and the revolution was decided on the 10th of the 10th month in 1769. The dance, which was performed only by men holding each other from the shoulders so as to symbolise the mutual support and appreciation, the trust and cooperation among them, was named "pentozali" (pente means five in Greek) - because it was the fifth attempt of the Greeks to liberate themselves from the Turks. The revolution resulted in bloodshed as the Russian help never arrived. Daskalogiannis and many of his generals were killed but the "pentozali", the dance of Daskalogiannis´ revolution, won, survived and today is the most popular Cretan dance.

It should be noted that we may possibly have on a piece of pottery from Kamilaris Herakleion a picture of the ancient Cretan dance "yporchima" , in which four men dance in a circle, holding each other from the shoulders and it is dated to the 13th century BC. If this supposition is true then the "pentozali" may be a descendant of "yporchima", the only traditional Cretan war dance in which the dancers hold each other from the shoulders and dance in a circle.

The Cretan expressed through the "pentozali" their undying desire for liberation, their fighting spirit and their heroic soul. The difference from the other Cretan war dances is that it is mainly a revolutionary dance. Its historical, revolutionary, heroic and symbolic character is confirmed by its dynamic and explosive style and its historical-folklore background.

As years went by women started dancing the pentozali as well. According to old musicians and dancers the dance spread to the rest Crete in the 1920s. The accompanying music in 2/4 time is played either by a violin or lyra together with a lute or mandolin (or ascompadoura in the mountainous areas).

According to tradition the first dancer in the "pentozali" does not take individual and skilful initiatives but he is one of the dancers with the same and homogeneous movement. However, the first dancer often takes the initiative and creates a group of men only, in front of the women, which does not follow the basic steps of the whole group, does not dance in a circle but performs at the same time the step variations of the dance in a straight line. The "paties", the multiple stabs of the feet on the ground, are the main characteristic of these variations. It is said that they stand for the volley of bullets from the Cretan weapons in the battles against the Turks.

The women neither perform figures as a group nor is it common for them to be first dancers. The "pentozali" is a kind of memorial service to Daskalogiannis, to the captains and to their revolution and that is why modesty and respect towards the tradition is necessary.

We should point out that the traditional version of "pentozali" does not have a quick and a fast rhythm nor is there a slow and a quick "pentozali". Its form is unique, fast, dynamic and explosive. The modern distinction into "slow" and "quick pentozali" was created in the 1950s, when some lyra players of central Crete made a new version of the "kontilia" tune of the "slow", which was a dance of central and eastern Crete, and changed it immediately into the "pentozali" rhythm. It was then that the present "slow pentozali" was created and it is now danced in Chania, Rethymno and Herakeion with variations known as the "chaniotiko sigano", the "Rethmniotiko sigano" and the "Herakeiotiko sigano" which have ten, eight, and six steps respectively.