Basic Greek Dance Etiquette
If it’s your first Greek Festival, or your first time venturing out on the dance floor, you may be wondering how to jump into the fray without getting run over. Some dances are very simple, with a few repeated steps. Others are more complex with dozens of variations. Everyone is welcome to dance, but it helps to follow a few basic rules so you don’t step on any toes.
A few Greek dances are danced as couples or solo, but most Greek dances are danced in a line. The line moves generally to the right and the person on the end with their right hand free is the leader. Everyone else follows the leader.
When a dance has a lot of variations, there is no particular order to dance those steps, so the leader calls the steps with hand signals. It is important to watch the leader to know what is coming next. If the leader is not using hand signals, you have to watch their feet.
The first rule of Greek dancing is never try to join a line at the right end (beginning of the line). Sometimes you will see the leader offer the lead to another dancer, but no one takes over the lead without an invitation.
Beginners should always join at the back of the line. You will see experienced dancers break into the middle of a line. There are two reasons for doing this. One is to dance next to friends who are already in the line. The second reason that experienced dancers will break into the middle of the line is so they don’t have to trip over beginners who don’t know the steps. So if you don’t know the steps, go to the back. Don’t break into the middle of a line.
Sometimes, if the line is long, you end up opposite the leader at the other end of the circle and it’s hard to follow the steps because you are looking at them backwards. If it’s crowded, you might not be able to see the leader through the crowd of other dancers. If you’re having a hard time getting the steps, you might want to go behind the leader for a few minutes to practice the steps before joining the end of the line.
The most common dance is the Syrto. It is easy to learn because most people dance it without variations and the bands like to play 20 minute Syrto medleys, so there is plenty of time to pick up the 12-step slow-quick-quick slow-quick-quick rhythm. (This doesn’t apply if you get in my line. My feet get bored doing the same 12 steps for 20 minutes, so I throw in lots of variations.)
At many Greek Festivals they teach a couple of the dances once or twice a day so that beginners get a chance to learn the steps properly. You can also ask some of the more experienced dancers to show you the steps in between songs or when the band takes a break.
If you find the line dances intimidating, you can still join in the Tsifteteli, the Greek version of a belly danced which can be danced as a couple or solo. There are no steps, just get out there and wiggle.
The other dance you will see people dancing alone is the Zembekiko, or drunkard’s dance. This also has no specific steps, but involves stumbling around precariously to the rhythm of the music. In the Zembekiko you will see several dancers down on one knee clapping around a particular dancer, and then they’ll trade off. There are no rules. You can dance alone or you can join the clapping for someone else. As long as you’re having fun, you’re doing just fine.
Now go out and hit the dance floor. Opa!