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Syrtos (chaniotikos)

An ancient ceremonial dance

The "syrtos" or "sertos", which is danced nowadays on the whole island of Crete, seems to be linked to the worshipping Minoan dance of the ceremonial services. This also explains that the dancers hold each other´s hands in a distance and in a circle. The great number of the accompanying melodies (musical tunes) of syrtos is of particular interest. The "first chaniotikos" and the "second chaniotikos" or "kissamitikos" are known all over Crete. Tradition has it that these tunes formed the basis for the creation of the modern Cretan "syrtos", which is better known as "chaniotikos syrtos".

It is a ceremonial and revolutionary dance, modest and dynamic simultaneously, which has been linked to the Cretan life and is present in every dance activity. In this dance, as well, the improvisations of the "first dancer" are present, however, his turns, his "tsakismata" (the bend of the waist) and the "talimia" are few, modest and controlled.

When the "chaniotikos syrtos" is performed only by men, its customary rules must be followed. These are the following: the first dancer gives a handkerchief to the second one (their hands being at the height of their shoulders) and they start dancing simply and modestly, the two of them being the only ones who dance. The rest, holding each other´s hands down, walk after the first two. In the second turn the "first dancer" performs some impromptu movements and in the third turn he does briskly as many figures as he can invent. Then he leaves from the front and goes at the end of the dancers. The second becomes first; the third becomes second and so on until everyone becomes first. This process is allegorical. It symbolises the captain who is cooperating with the second-in-command and together they "drag" the lads to the battle. The chief gives orders, the second-in-command watches carefully so as to learn and the rest obey the orders. In case the chief resigns, gets hurt or is lost, the second-in-command becomes the chief and he appoints a new assistant.

The Cretan woman often dances first in this dance. She dances gracefully and harmoniously, with modesty and grandeur, she varies her steps, she does "tsakismata" and turns but she avoids exaggerations and jumps. Contrary to the man, she puts emphasis on her dancing expression rather than on her skilfulness that´s why she uses few figures. When "syrtos" is danced only by women, they break the circle quite often and turn around themselves, having their hands free, which is a kind of variation of the usual steps.

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