Syrtaki: The Greek Dance Designed for Hollywood (video)

Most people believe that the syrtaki (συρτάκι) is a traditional Greek dance going back to the early 20th century. The millions of tourists who visit Greece every year will dance – or at least watch – the syrtaki being danced in tavernas.

Yet, the syrtaki is not a tradition who comes our of Greek history but our of Hollywood. It is a dance that was specifically created for the needs of a movie. Well, not any movie, but “Zorba the Greek“, based on the emblematic book by Nikos Kazantzakis, “Zorbas”, released in 1964.

And the composer is none other but Mikis Theodorakis, the most prominent Greek musician of all time. What Theodorakis did was take the alternating slow and fast steps of the hassaposerviko dance, and compose the music to Zorba the Greek.

The most important aspect of the syrtaki music and dance is the rhythm acceleration. The name syrtaki comes from the word syrtos, a common name for a group of traditional Greek dances. The word derives from the verb σύρω (syro), meaning drag, as I drag my fellow dancers.

The dancers dance in lines or in a circle, with each dancer holding the shoulder of the person beside him. The measure is 4/4, rising gradually and reaching 2/4 in the fastest part of the dance. The dance starts with slow, smooth moves that gradually become faster, more lively, often including small leaps.