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Dimitris Kantas

The Corfiot Sirtosdance (Romaika).

Kantas, Dimitris: "The Corfiot Sirtos dance (Romaika)" ,15th International Congress on Dance Research, Ioannina, Greece, 7-11/11, 2001.

Assuming that the ancient dance called Kolpos or Ormos is the ancestor of the present Sirtos dance over the Greek territory, then the Corfiot Sirtos dance is nothing else but this kind of dance.

The non-scientific training and consequently the inadequate study mainly of the Corfiot dance names, combined with their superficial and hasty presentation all over Greece has created a false impression to our dear friends out of Corfu and unfortunately to many of them in the island. Therefore, it was adopted that the dances existing and danced in Corfu are the Siniotikos, the Spartiliotikos, the Agiriotikos, the Gastouriotikos dance, and in the past the Vulgara, the Levantinikos dance, and others.

It is easy for a non-Corfiot researcher or teacher to say that Corfu has 10 or 15 dances. All the above names refer to one and only dance, the typical dance of the island, the Sirtos dance. We could say that the names are related to different melodies, all of them of the same musical measure, 2/4 the double rhythm, and of the same dance style and tempo.

In Corfu, dance presents slight variations regarding the position of the dancers in the circle and the dancing ground. I would say that positions are different in the wedding and the feast. Another variation I would mention has to do with the difference in music related to the “playful tunes”and embellishments.When I describe this dance, we will get into the points I call “differentiations”.

In the mountain area of Oros (mount Pantokratoras, which has given its name to the area), the Sirtos dance is more slow. The musicians and the dancers are not hasteful. The melodies called Siniotikos, Agiriotikos, Spartiliotikos, Orinos are the ones still played. In the past, there were also the Vulgara and Levantinikos melodies. The area of Oros is the most famous in the history of Corfiot popular dancing. The best musicians of the island during the first half of the previous century (1900-1950) were originated from this area (Stravogiannos from Spartilas, Bezeris from Sokraki, Banaras from Nissaki). This area created a still very live and rich dance tradition, which I personally consider to be unique. In my opinion, when we talk about a Corfiot Sirtos dance, we mean this Oros Sirtos dance (main villages of the Oros area: Spartilas, Sinies, Episkepsi, Klimatia, Sokraki, Zigos, Sgourades).

This dance usually consists of women holding one another with bent elbows dancing one next to the other and facing the center of the circle. Sometimes they hold each other with the little fingers, sometimes by holding coloured kerchieves. In the past, the order in the circle followed the ages based on an unwritten law or was determined by the man who paid for the dance. Nowadays, the order is fortuitous. In the wedding dance, the relatives are next to the bride. The father or the brother or the son was the “head” of the dance and it was him who determined the “kouda” (the one who danced in the “tail”, the end). Following the music melody, the “head” dances a musical dance motive alone (just as in the Cephallonian Ballos dance); in the second, he nods and the women’s dance begins. The women’s motion is decent, without any swaying or airs and graces, with a proud style and a straight stature, with a regular step, without any jumps, with a look full of self-confidence, superiority, self-guidance. “The musical rhythms played, are not led slowly and languidly nor are they urging for jumps and quickness which would break the vividness and the harmony of each person in his movement expression….”, as noted accurately by the tradition researcher Gerassimos Hitiris.

The men used to be two- the”head”and the “tail”, while nowadays there are more of them in the circle. They follow the dance with the characteristic playful motions, those of the feet which do not follow the dance movements, but do follow the rhythm and the tempo. This dance is also called “meraklidikos”, meaning the dancers’ enthusiasm to perform playful motions, in the slow rhythm of the Oros, Sinies and Spartilas melody of the Sirtos dance.

In the villages of the Messi area (middle of the island), dance becomes somewhat faster. The men’s and women’s position remains the same. However, when the dance space is small and the dance itself is long, then the women may get in threes or fours. Each group of three or four women joins the next one with coloured kerchieves hunging from the preceding one’s waist and thus the dance is presented in two or three rows. In the wedding, the father usually leads the dance before the daughter, the mother and the sister, if there is one, holding the ends of the three kerchieves. Moreover, in the past, the good wedding dresses (that is the married women) used to stand in the inner side of the dance. The leading dancer holds the first woman’s kerchief in the honour of whom he leads the dance. This is a head kerchief with live colours, mostly red. He never holds the free hand. Several times, he places his one hand on the back, he moves to the opposite direction and in parallel to the circle, making playful motions, jumps, airs and graces.

We read a description of the Sirtos dance with unique information in Charles Rambaut’s book “Un hiver a Corfou” (A winter in Corfu), written between the years 1892-1899 at the village Stavros, over the well-known village of Benitses.

“ …. After a three-hour uphill walking, there’s Stavros, hung on a corner of steep rocks, over the deep Messonghi valley…. The people, very nice and kind, lead us to an olive-grove where all the village has gathered to dance. Men are moving with gestures imitating monkeys, women on the contrary remain serious and cool, absorbed in their role… A violonist starts playing a mournful melody like a wounded bird’s song. Then the dance begins. It is a festive walk. The women holding red unfolded kerchieves between them walk in small steps three by three, then they go back in the same style, to begin again. Behind them, there’s a long series of locals who repeat exactly the same movements. Not one cry, not one laughter…

In the area of Lefkimi, the Sirtos dance is more complicated (men-women) and the most usual rhythm is the 7-beatSirtos rather than the 2-beat one. This is mainly due to the fact that a large part of the population came from the Peloponnese (family names such as Koulouris, Chryssikopoulos, Nikopoulos, Kalogeropoulos) where the 7-beat rhythm dominates. It is also due to its distance the Town and the Oros area where the 2-sign rhythm of western origin dominates.

The more to the South we move, the faster the rhythm becomes. Thus, we will see the 2-beat rhythms danced in a 7-beat style and as a consequence the playful movements and the improvisations of the dancers are missing in the southern areas due to the quickness of the musical and dancing motives. I must note that an unwritten law prohibits all exaggerations by the male dancers, as this is considered to be an offence and lack of respect towards the female dancers.

Before ending my presentation on the Corfiot Sirtos dance, I should say that the well-known melody called “Perdika” or else “Rouga” and “Kerkiraikos dance” has nothing to do with the authentic traditional melodies of the island. This was composed by the composer Samoilis (1949), was set to music by him and became well known all over Greece mainly due to the Greek cinema films, featuring Rena Vlachopoulou, arranged by George Katsaros, and with choreographies of the time.

Sources of information

- "Information on tradition", by Giannis Bounias, Corfu, 1953-54

- "Popular tradition", by Gerassimos Hitiris, Corfu, 1951

- "Customs of the wedding in Argirades, Lefkimmi", by Gerassimos Salvanos, Thessaloniki, 1931

- "Un Hiver à Corfou, by Charles Rambaut, 1892.

- Research fieldwork of the author in the villages: Episkepsi, Sinies, Klimatia, Sokraki, Kato Garouna, Pavliana, Pelekas, Chlomos, Neochori, Dragotina, Kritika, Riglades, Potami, Melikia.

Dimitris Kantas



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