The dances of Crete are danced by men and women and remind the imposing and dynamic presence of the people of the island.
The Cretan dances are divided into two large groups, the quick (“pidichtoi”) and the round (“sirtoi”). The quick dances remind war dances especially if they are danced by men. The round dances are more popular in marriages while, in the ancient times, were danced by the Minoans during sacrifices.
It is said that the first dance started in Crete, spread to the rest of Greece and, then, changed. “Pirichios” was the dance that inspired the creation of other dances and was taught in all over Greece. It was a war dance that reminds “pentozalis” (i.e. a Cretan quick dance).
The myth of the birth of Zeus confirms the ancient relation of the Cretans with that form of expression. It is said that Rea wanted to give birth to Zeus in Diktaio Antro in order to protect it from Kronos’s (his father) rage as Kronos knew that Zeus would take his place as the god of the gods and goddesses. In order to protect her child, Rea taught a dance to Kourites tapping their shields and covering the sound of the baby’s cry.
Twenty-five dances are recorded in the Cretan dance inheritance, not known in the whole island as each one flourished in a different area of Crete. Many of them are named “siganos” (i.e. slow) or “pidichtos” and the place name in where they were danced. So there were many slow and quick dances. Other dances are gitsikia sousta, glikomilitsa, rodo, fterotos sirtos, koutsampadianos, trizalis, apanomeritis, mikro mikraki, mprimianos or priniotis, agaliastos, ksenompasaris, zervodeksos, steiakos, lazotis and ntournerakia. The most popular dances are only five, sousta, siganos, malevizotis, sirtos or chaniotis and pentozali.
Sousta falls under the quick dances category and comes from Rethimno. It is danced by (men-women) couples and reminds a love story, from the time of their meeting till their marriage. In the ancient times, sousta was a war dance but, through the years, it became a love calling. Its name came from the Latin and means a spring.
Siganos was the dance of the bride in the central and eastern Crete. It came from the Rethimno prefecture and is a slow dance that both men and women hold each other’s shoulders and make a circle. According to tradition, siganos was created by the Cretans during the Turkish Occupation as the Turks invited Christians in their feasts in order to make the women dance. They had rubbed the floor with a plant in order to slip and fall down. That is why the Cretans invented that dance and asked from the lyre players to play siganos in order not to have accidents. It is also said that siganos was invented by the Cretans when the Turks prohibited the quick-revolutionary dances. The Cretans made siganos in order not to forget pentozali with whom it looks like. That is why, after siganos, pentozali is played.
Maleviziotis or kastrinos or pidichtos is a dance from the Malevizi district of the Heraclion prefecture. It is a quick dance in a circle. “Talimia” that means dance evolutions are also made during maleviziotis. The first man in the circle holding the hand of the second one, he performs dance evolutions.
The most popular dance is chaniotis or sirtos. Sirtos is danced in a circle and made in the middle of the 18th century, after the change of an older sirtos dance. Chaniotis was danced for the first time in Kissamos of Chania. The famous melody in the “Aleksis Zormpas” film is based on an old chaniotis.
Pentozalis or (more correctly) pentozali falls under the quick dances category. It is performed in a circle and, mostly nowadays, after siganos. It was created in the Kissamos province, about in 1770, during the Daskalogiannis Revolution. It is said that, in every important event of his life, Daskalogiannis wanted a new dance to be created or a new melody to be written. So he asked from the musician Stefanos Triantafilakis to compose a pentozalis dedicated to their fifth revolution against the Turks. Pentozali is performed with 10 steps that remind the decision of the people of Sfakia to start the Revolution on the 10th of October 1769 and the music has twelve parts (musical expressions, turns) in the honor of the twelve ringleaders of the revolution.
The Cretan dances are not in danger of extinction as it is an inseparable part of the Cretans’ social life. There are also many variations from place to place and from man to man.