Cypriot Folk dancing
Cypriot folk dances have been carried forward through many generations and are hundreds of years old. The traditional Greek Cypriot dances are a heritage that has kept tradition alive and many of these dances are still taught to students in Cypriot schools. Some of the dances are centered on special occasions like weddings and feast days and others have their origin from mythology. Cypriot dances have a few similarities with Greek dancing and the biggest difference is the music that accompanies these dances which is almost always a violin. In times gone by there were separate dances for males and females and they were kept apart, today you will find both men and women dancing together. The men’s dances were usually more robust and dynamic in comparison to the women’s dances that were slower and more sedate.
One of the most popular men’s dances is the ‘kartsilamas’ which originates from northern Turkey. The name of this song actually means ‘greetings’ in Turkish and this dance is often danced at weddings and festivals. Men are divided into pairs and dance opposite each other in a dance that has six sequences of steps. Another dance which is also danced by women is the ‘sirto’ which has a circle of dancers holding hands and repeating the steps while moving in a circular motion. There is also a male version of the ‘sirto’ which is danced in pairs facing each other. One of the most enjoyable dances is the Cypriot ‘zeimbekiko’ which is a solo dance that allows the dancer to improvise and add his own steps while moving in a wider range over the floor than any of the previous dances. The other dancers usually kneel down and clap while the dance is performed. This dance should not be confused with the modern day Greek Zeimbekiko which is a popular dance in Greece.
If you happen to be at a Cypriot taverna that features Cypriot dancers you will also see the male dancers using real skill with a sickle or knife or with filled glasses being stacked on their heads while they dance. Some dancers manage to balance over a dozen glasses stacked up high on their heads while keeping in step with the music. This is usually a solo dance in comparison to most of the Cypriot dances that are performed in pairs facing each other or in circles while holding hands. Men and women who are considered to be ‘light on their feet’ are usually considered to be great dancers. Most of the dances are danced in a specific sequence depending on the occasion. The ‘sickle dance’ for instance was danced during the harvest and is a solo dance that shows the versatility of the dancer who swishes the sickle around his body expertly during the whole dance. Although most of the traditional Cypriot dances are danced to instrumental music there are a few traditional songs that are danced too during weddings. The ‘tacha’ is another virtuoso dance that has the dancer spinning around a sieve with a glass of water balancing in it.
Women’s dances are the ‘kartsilamas’, ‘kalamatianos’, ‘tsamiko’ and ‘sirto’ which are not the same as the male version but danced in pairs or going around in a circle while holding hands. There are also traditional dances that vary depending on the area or villages in Cyprus. There is also a set of 6 sequential dances that are danced by the women and these are a lot less lively than the male version, due to the fact that women had to conduct themselves demurely.
One of the only times that a male and female dance Cypriot folk dances together is during a wedding were the bride and groom do the dance of the newlyweds. This is a traditional dance that still takes place today. While they dance to a specific song, relatives and friends pin money on them and in some cases their whole outfits may be covered. This is considered to be a blessing and best wishes for the couple on their new journey together.
Traditional costumes worn by men usually consisted of a ‘vraka’ or wide black material that was wrapped around and kept together by a material sash at the waist. This was usually accompanied by a white shirt and an ornate embroidered waistcoat. Boots were almost always worn with this outfit. The women wore colourful skirts with a blouse and waistcoat and usually wore a head scarf. Their waistcoats had beautiful handmade embroidery in different colours. Some authentic pieces of traditional folk dancers outfits can be found in some of the museums on the island.
It is well worth seeing how the Cypriots have kept their traditions and still perform these dances at tavernas around Cyprus. One can only hope that these traditions will never be forgotten and that the new generations to come, will keep them alive so that they can honour their ancestors