Greek A to Ω – Z (Zeta) is for Ζορμπά or Zorba

A couple of weeks away in Greece are just not complete without going to a traditional Greek food and entertainment night and this really must include Greek dancing.  A real enthusiast will prepare for such an evening by purchasing a CD of Greek music to practice beforehand but this is not strictly necessary and all you really need to be able to do is to recognise the opening chords of ‘Zorba’s Dance’.

Confession time.  I do have CD of Greek Bouzouki music…

In ancient Greece, dancing was believed to be the gift of the gods and sacred dances were held as offerings to the deities, as commemorations of key events and as a way of keeping communities together. Dancing was also taught to soldiers as a crucial part of their military training, especially in Athens and Sparta.

Proper Greek nights will have real musicians with bouzouki and accordion players as these will play the best music and the ones to be avoided are those with electric organs because these are simply not authentic.

This man had an electric organ but also a bouzouki so that was OK…

Most Greek dances are performed in a line which moves generally to the right and the person on the end with their right hand free is the leader.  Everyone else follows the leader who calls the steps that can be quite complicated.  Beginners are supposed to join the line at the end and it is considered bad manners to barge into the middle.

One of the most common dances at Greek party night is called the Zembekiko, or drunkard’s dance. This one is easy because it has no specific steps and involves stumbling around precariously to the rhythm of the music. In the Zembekiko there are several dancers down on one knee clapping around a particular dancer, and then they’ll swap places now and again, there are no specific rules which means participants can dance alone or join the clapping for someone else because as long as people are having fun, that is just fine.

The best Greek night that I have been to was in Mykonos in 2005, which was held in a rustic bar in a village in the hills and as well as the food and the wine and the dancing also had table dancing, setting fire to the floor with lighter fuel dancing and authentic plate smashing.  Breaking plates is linked with the Greek concept of kefi, which is the spirit of joy, passion, enthusiasm, high spirits or frenzy.  Some say that it wards off evil spirits, others maintain that breaking plates symbolises good luck (especially for potters I should imagine) but to be sure whatever it means it is a lot of good fun.

2004 and my 50th birthday holiday in Santorini.  Before the dancing…

Breaking plates like this is now considered a dangerous practice due to flying shards or perhaps also because of intoxicated tourists who have poor aim and may hit innocent bystanders. It is officially discouraged and in Greece, as well as in the United Kingdom, a bar or restaurant that wants to do it requires a license.   Tucked away in the hills, I doubt if this place had a license but it didn’t last long and they very quickly substituted the plates with paper napkins to throw around.

It is said that occasionally dancers perform feats such as standing on a glass of wine or a chair on one leg or fireplace full of hot coals, or picking up a table with their teeth.  I am not so sure about any of that I have to say.

Mind you if you think plate smashing is dangerous in the old days they used to throw knives at the dancers feet as a sign of respect and manhood.  This was a bit reckless and not surprisingly, due to countless injuries, that tradition gradually changed to the present-day flower throwing alternative, which may seem rather effeminate by comparison but is a whole lot safer.


26 responses to “Greek A to Ω – Z (Zeta) is for Ζορμπά or Zorba

  1. Thanks for an interesting post. Sounds like a good time was had by all!


  2. You are more than Greek,Andrew !!!


  3. Hi,
    A great post.
    I just couldn’t imagine people throwing knives at dancers, you can imagine the dancers thinking: “Will I still be able to dance tomorrow night”, as the knives were heading towards them. 😀
    Thank goodness someone decided to stop the practice. 🙂


  4. I just want to be a fly on the wall. I couldn’t break a perfectly good plate in a Greek restaurant I went to once. I guess I don’t have any high spirit etc.


  5. Yes I can remember a few “Zorba” nights going back in time- enormous fun. I don’t seem to’ve broken the habit- ended up dancing in the Carnaval procession last week. Old habits die hard!


  6. I think I could pick up a tablet with my teeth . . . wait . . . table?



  7. I have the vaguest of feelings that the Bouzouki as an instrument has passed into Irish folk music as a “traditional”part of the Irish sound, but try as I might, I cannot give you chapter and verse about it.


  8. Sounds like a fun birthday.


  9. I am the person with two left feet when it comes to dancing – but it looks as if I would fit in just fine!


  10. I could probably just about manage the stumbling precariously bit!


  11. I’ve not joined in but have enjoyed watching it on Ios, though I recall it was only men dancing. Zorba the Greek is a very catchy tune…


  12. I’d handle the drunk dance the best, Andrew. No doubt about it. As kids we had a game where we stand facing each other and throw knives at each other’s feet. The objective was to come close. 🙂


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