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Ariadne - Daphne Stergiopoulou

DANCE - RHYTHM - IDENTITY: The case of Goumenissa

Stergiopoulou, Ariadne – Daphne: "Dance – Rhythm - Identity: The case of Goumenissa", 12th International Congress on Dance Research, Athens, 1-5/7/1998.



The case of Goumenissa


   The following presentation resumes elements of my personal ethnomusicological survey (fieldwork) conducted in 1996 in Goumenissa, a small town in the departement of Kilkis. My goal, in this paper, is to show the way in which dance, and in particular the different dances that one comes across today in Goumenissa, brings out a filling of identity, in a subconscious way, which in an anthropological perspective defines the social differentiation between the several "communities" living together in the particular town.

   Beginning from the description of Goumenissa, I will approach the issue of dance and the related conditions so as to come to certain conclusions.

1.Brief Demographic Description of Goumenissa:

   The town of Goumenissa (departement of Kilkis) is situated in a distance of seventy kilometres northwest of Thessaloniki and of forty kilometres from the borders of Greece and the Former Yougoslavian Republic of Macedonia. Goumenissa presents a demographic particularity due to the fact that its population is composed of four different "communities"/ ethnic groups 1. Its total population is about four and a half thousand inhabitants, who are all greek-speaking and christian orthodox; among them:

   -approximately two thousand are the "locals"/ "natives" (="dophii") who created the town in the fifteenth/ sixteenth century according to the oral tradition 2.;

   -about one thousand five hundred are "the inhabitants of Saint-Georges' quarter" (="katiki tou sinikismou Agiou Georgiou"), gypsies 3., who according to oral sources 4. settled Goumenissa at the beginning of the twentieth century;

   -about a hundred fifty are the "pontics" (="pondii"), refugees from the region of Ak-Dag-Maten in Pontos, who settled in Goumenissa in 1923 following the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne;

   -and finally, about six hundred people are the "eastern- romyliotes" (="anatolikoromiliotes"), refugees from Ano Vodena of Eastern Romylia 5., who settled in Goumenissa in 1924 and 1926 after the signature of the Treaty of Neuilly.

   Each (and every) ethnic group coexists peacefully whith (all) the other groups but preserves it's own characteristics in several activities. Although at first glance one might comes to the opposite conclusion; long- standing observation and analysis show that each community expresses itself in it's own particular way in it's customs/ rituals, cultural events and simple entertainment/ recreation, all contexts where dance is present.


2.Dance Contexts:

   In a general way dance is intensely present in Goumenissa. Dance practice is related to the religion, meaning that many events are organised for the celebration of the patron- saints. Although Goumenissa is supposed to have only one patron, Virgin Mary, in real life people refer to several of these, so that every community celebrates separately it's own patron- saint.

   As a result, and except a) the seven-day celebration honoring the Virgin Mary on the fifteenth of August, one comes across b) the "minor events" on the thirteenth of January in honor of the "Three Prelates" (="Tris Ierarhes", patrons of school and education) that were established by the association of the refugees from Pontos, c) the "kourbani", on the first of February, a ritual honoring Saint- Tryphon, patron of the viticulturists that are mainly "eastern- romyliotes" and d) a feast for everybody on the "Kathari Deutera" (=movable feast, forty days before Easter), which is (created and) organized by the association of the "Macedonian Fighters".

3.Communities and Associations:

   Although most inhabitants, regardless of their education, refuse the existance of particular "community events", I believe that anthropologically speaking and if one takes into consideration that in every case the essential contributor of each event is the cultural association of an ethnic group, each particular event represents primarilly the members of the association concerned.

   The case of the associations "Diogenes of Sinopia" (="Diogenis o Sinopeus", founded in 1982) and "Saint- Tryphon" (="Agios- Tryphon", founded in 1979), refugees of Pontos and Eastern Romylia respectively, is eloquent and leaves no doubt, as long as their members are exclusivelly persons of these particular origins. The case of the associations "Paionians" (="Paiones", founded in 1975) and "Macedonian Fighters" (="Makedonomahi", founded in 1995) is more complicated: according to the statutes from both associations, any person can join them; still the administration of both associations is represented by "locals"; the difference between those two associations is that their dance-groups are principally constituted of "locals" for the "Paionians" and of "gypsies" for the "Macedonian Fighters".

   Consequently, it is obvious that through cultural events each ethnic group/ each cultural association preserves it's own character, a particular repertoire. That, except some dances which everybody dances, there are other dances which are clearly the exclusive expression of an ethnic group.

   So, if we consider dance neither as a choreological or an artistic but as a social fact, we deduce that, mainly in a subconscious way, (most of interviewed people ignore entirely this fact), dance serve as a support of an (social) identity.

   From their side, "locals" keep intensely their traditions which lend them (in Goumenissa) their cultural particularity; and it is exactely this particularity which has been threatened by the arrival of refugees and their customs. From the other hand, refugees, "pontics" and "eastern- romyliotes", "cut" from their native lands, keep still their customs as a sign of their origins. Because in administrative and legal matters refugees are considered just like all greek (Goumenissa's) native citizens, their customs, which evoke their particularity, are fortified.


   In Goumenissa, one comes across three chief repertoires and a forth-one which will not be developed in this paper (the panhellenic repertoire: composed of popular greek traditional and other dances). At first it concerns a) the local dances of Goumenissa, then b) dances of pontic refugees and c) these of eastern- romyliotes refugees.

   "Gypsies"/ the inhabitants of Saint- George quarter, identify themselves with "locals" concerning dance practice; music accords them a uniting function between different ethnic groups of the town, given that they are mainly great traditional musicians (known all over Greece) and that they play all kinds of greek music especially in Goumenissa's dance live-music events. Despite contempts towards them, their presence in Goumenissa fortifies social relationships between distinct communities.

   Inspite of the fact that in the old days people played each repertoire with particular music instruments (briefly: "zournades" and "daouli" or "klarino" and "touberleki" for the "locals", "lyra" and "daouli" or "violi" for the "pontics", "ga‹da", "da‹res" or even "violi" and "akordeon" for the "easter- romyliotes"), today -more or less- a commun instrumentarium dominates for all repertoires: "zournades", clarinets, brass-band instruments, tabors, "touberlekia" as good as other percutive instruments, synthesizers. One can deduce then, that instrumentarium is not the criterion which evokes ethnic group particularities; it is dances that evoke this particular character. From a musicological viewpoint, it concerns rhythms and motives of each tradition.

   The following dance list is not an exhaustive reference to the respective repertoire of each ethnic group. There are mentioned only dances which have been observed during fieldwork.

4.A. Local Dances of Goumenissa:

   In different contexts like local festivals, or simple entertainment in patron feasts, the following dances have been noted:

   -"Libio", women's dance in open circle, at 16/8;

   -"Proskinitos", women's dance on line alternated in open circle, at 6/8;

   - "Madilaki", face to face mixed couples dance, at 9/8 and 4/8 (alternated);

   -Sire-Sire, mixed dance in open circle, at 9/8;

   -"Ga‹da", men's dance in open circle, at 16/16 (4/4);

   -"Poustnitsa" men's solistic dance, at 4/4.

   Among these dances the most popular are "Libio", "Proskinitos" and "Ga‹da".

4.B. Dances of Pontic Refugees:

   The following dances have been noted in patron feast entertainment:

   -"Kotsari", mixed dance in open circle, at 4/8;

   -"Omal", men's dance on line, at 4/8 and 9/8;

   -"Tik", (men's) mixed dance in open circle, at 9/16 and 5/8;

   among them, the first-one is the most popular.

4.C. Dances of Easter-Romylia Refugees:

   These dances have been noted in patron feast entertainment:

   -"Ba‹douska", mixed dance in open circle, at 5/8 or 2/4;

   -"Sfarlis", mixed dance in open circle, at 4/8;

   -"Kastrinos", mixed dance in open circle, at 2/4;

   -"Souflioutouda", "Zonaradikos" and "Tsestos", the first-one for women, the second mixed dance and the third men's dance, at 6/8;

-"Sygathistos", face to face free dance in mixed couples, at 7/8.

   Among these dances "Ba‹douska", "Zonaradikos", and "Sygathistos" are the most popular.

4.D. Brief Deductions:

   The above arguments led us to the conclusion that there are some specific dances which predominate over others. According to the rhythmic motives of these dances we deduce that:

   -the "locals" express themselves through the rhythmic motives of the dances "Libio"-16/8, "Proskinitos"-6/8 and "Ga‹da"-16/16;

   -the pontic refugees, through the rhythmic motive of the dance "Kotsari"-4/8;

   -the "eastern-romyliotes", through the rhythm motives of the dances "Ba‹douska"-5/8, "Zonaradikos"-6/8 and "Sygathistos"-7/8.

   I believe that the fact that each community expresses itself through specific dances is not an haphasard choice. Therefore one can suppose that the domination of some specific rhythmic motives over others, signifies a subconscious selection of a repertoire which enable the dancers/ members of an ethnic group to differentiate themselves from and in relation with the other groups. Through dances/ rhythms, each community is recognized as particular such from it's own members than from third persons; dances/ rhythms serve as identity index.


   The above developement put in evidence how each-one of the four ethnic groups of Goumenissa keeps alive it's particular cultural heritage. The study of the cultural associations as well as the study of their respective dance groups, made us deduce that each ethnic group makes subconscious efforts to conserve it's own repertoire. Through a detailed report on the most popular dances and rhythms it has been shown that this choice is not an accidental result and that it contributes to the social differentiation between distinct communities of the town.

   In this way, according to my observations during fieldwork and consequently, to the way in which it is used in this presentation, the concept of social differentiation doesn't evoke the idea of social conflicts but it signifies that Goumenissa is composed of an heterogeneous population, each part of which, use dance like a medium for to conserve it's ethnic identity.

C.V.: Ariadne - Daphne Stergiopoulou was born in Athens in 1973.She is in the last year of her post-graduate studies on Ethnomusicology (D.E.A. d'Ethnomusicologie - Laboratoire d'Ethnologie et de Sociologie Comparative - Universit‚ Paris-X). She is specializing on the study of artistic and traditional greek dances.

1.Ethnic group: this concept describes, from the anthropological point of view, a group of people sharing certain cultural characteristics, mainly language or dialect, commun origin, histrical memory, local tradition... An ethnic group must be distinguished from the nation ("ethnos") which is a political concept and in which it may belong.

2.Elements gathered from personal interviews.

3.Often my interlocutors refered to them as "gypsies".

4.There are not solid, written arguments.

5.Eastern Romylia is the southeastern region of today's Bulgaria.



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