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Vassilios Tsaousis

Traditional Kleft dances preserved by the Sarakatsani.

Tsaousis, Vassilios: "Traditional Kleft dances preserved by the Sarakatsani", 17th International Congress on Dance Research, Naxos, 22-26/10, 2003.

The Sarakatsani have preserved the authenticity of their dances for two main reasons. Till the decade 1940-50 they were living following the traditional way. That means that they continued to preserve the traditional customs in their social life for much more years. That gave the opportunity to one more generation, which was the transitional one from the traditional to the modern life way, to grow up being acquainted with the Sarakatsanoi tradition directly from those who veritably lived it during the biggest part of their life.

Till the year 1970 the Sarakatsani were integrated in all the sectors of the Greek society. This unavoidable fact resulted in the estrangement of the new generation from its traditions and the subsequent loss of their links with the past.It was then that I and some other Sarakatsanoi who were knowledgeable about dances and songs, worried about the manifest decay and created a cultural association in Serres aiming to the recording of the customs and the collection of folklore material. This Sarakatsani Association of the Prefecture of Serres named "O Koutsantonis" was the forerunner of the Sarakatsani Folklore Museum of Serres.

In order to preserve and spread the unique Kleft dances and songs and other traditional ancient Greek dances, we organized a dance group to teach the children who were familiar with theses songs and dances since their early childhood considering that they were seeing us, the grown-ups, perform them personally till the establishment of the association in 1970. The leader of the dance group belonged to that transitional generation. At the beginning in the lead position he then became a dance teacher.

One of these Sarakatsani, who were really interested in the preservation of our tradition it’s me. I was fortunately born in 1930. Fortunately because I had the chance to experience the values of the Sarakatsan society at any dance event I went through in the tseligata (shepherds’ abodes) till 1946. That’s where I learnt to dance all the dances at seven years old with special interest in the Kleft dances, given that some wedding and other dance events made a big impression to me.

Following some special Kleft songs sung by the Sarakatsani "on the tavla" that is sitting around a table, their moral and national exaltation was raised in such a point that they started to whistle in the Kleft manner and then to fire with pistols and guns. Afterwards they stood up and started to perform the gallant Kleft dances, that present the unconquerable spirit of our fathers, who formed the Klephts, referring to the brave men that lived in the mountains fighting the Turkish oppressors without considering their life.

The totality of the movements of the Kleft dances manifests a free character and an unconquerable spirit. The tone of the song together with the movements of the dance were creating a spiritual raising prompting the young and the whole society of the Klefts to continue the struggle for freedom and to pay no attention to their life. It should be noted that the mothers wished their children a good bullet…

During the dance events everybody danced, both the young and the grown-ups. The most enthusiast men followed by the elderly and the children always started and led the dance. Women were the last to join the large circular dance loosely linked to the men by handkerchiefs in their hands. Songs only accompanied their dances, never musical instruments. Every text line was first sung by men and then repeated by women. The man who was finishing the dance he leaded, he was then linked to the last woman by handkerchief. The other men were following him until the large circular dance that had started with the men leading it, was then continued with the women leading and the men following them.

Every young, whose participation in the dance was compulsory, had to rehearse the songs and the dances he wanted to perform. His rehearsal was performed with young men of the same age and should he did not have a second person to help him with the movements and especially the movements of the Kleft dance, he had to be held by a beech or fir branch and perform the movements, the sittings and the rounds, alone accompanied only by his own singing.

We used to make note on small pieces of paper of the songs meant to be sung "kathista", that is sitting around a table, and the songs dedicated for dance, so as not to forget them. As for the song, everyone had to sing either a dance or a "kathisto" song followed by a dance. It was inconceivable for a young man not to participate in the dance.

Sometimes it was really a mess! Someone else sang the song that a young man had noted and for which he had rehearsed a lot. It was somewhat confusing but fortunately he was prepared even for his reserve songs, which he had also rehearsed.During the years I’ve been living in the tseligata, that is till the age of sixteen, age at which we considered ourselves to be mature men, many times it had happened even to me to not have the opportunity to sing and dance the song I chose as my first priority. In the Sarakatsani society, the young and the old ones were participating in all the social events not forced to but driven by lofty and decent rivalry.

The Kleft dances preserved by the Sarakatsani till today are the following:

1. Katsakleftikos, that symbolizes the insubordinate soul and pride of the Klefts in their fights against the Turks.

2. Kaltsadikos-kleftikos, that also reflects the feelings of the fighters

3. Ktsadikos-kleftikos, which through the song "Horevoun ta kleftopoula" symbolizes the honour and the faith to the Chief who lost his life in the fight for the freedom of the country.

4. Stavrotos-kleftikos, that reflects and symbolizes the solidarity between the Klefts during their fight for freedom, giving an oath to the symbol of the cross which they were forming with the movements of their arms.

5. Tsamikos-kleftikos, which is the triumphal hymn. It used to be danced during the whole struggle. It expresses joy, enthusiasm and the exaltation of the victory.

The Sarakatsani from the prefecture of Attica are called Moraites, those from Thessaly Thessaliotes, Kassandrinithose from Central Macedonia, Polites the ones coming from Eastern Macedonia and Epirotes those settled in Epirus. All costumes and some of the dances present differences from one region to another. According to witnesses of old men, all the Sarakatsani except those from Eastern Macedonia and Thrace abandoned Kleft dances in the years 1920-1930. In the prefecture of Attica they stopped using the "flampoura"’ in weddings in 1910-1915, in Thessaly in 1920-1925, in Central Macedonia in 1930-1935. Today, all the associations of Sarakatsani all over Greece perform Kleft dances.

Mr. Vassilios Tsaousis



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