WHAT ARE SPECIAL OCCASIONS?
Song and dance were everyday occurrences among people of the Balkans, Anatolia & the Levant. Women sang to themselves constantly to keep in good spirits while doing repetitive tasks like spinning, weeding, milking, laundry, weaving, house cleaning. Men sang & played homemade instruments while driving and grazing livestock, and while traveling to distant fields.
Also, among Christians there was a weekly gathering, usually after church, where the village would congregate and all could dance and talk. As this was considered recreation, no special dances were performed. Among Christians and Moslems alike, weddings and other festivities involved ‘regular’ dancing as well. A village might have a repertoire of 10-30 dances that worked just fine for these occasions.
Special occasions, then, were occasions that happened only once or rarely in a year. Or they marked a mile-stone in a person’s life – a Christening, marriage, childbirth, death. They might mark a milestone in the agricultural cycle – plowing, planting, harvest; or the seasons – mid-winter, mid-summer. They might be specific to women or men or soldiers or shepherds. In short, they were not just any occasion, and/or not just anyone could participate.
LIFE ON THE LAND
Until the mid-20th century, the vast majority of people living in the Balkans, Anatolia & the Levant led the life of a rural peasant – a tiller of soil or tender of animals. Most lived in small villages consisting of a cluster of homes, each containing a multi-generation family, often related to others in the village. Each family had a small plot of land to raise a few crops, and access to other land to graze animals.
The village might contain no stores, as money was rare. People made almost everything they needed from their own resources. There were seldom schools, as children were needed to work in the home or on the land. There were no ‘professionals’, as no one could afford their services. Several villages would share a chapel or mosque, and its religious leader was often the only literate person.
The main alternate way of living was the life of a nomad – individuals, families or tribes who moved herds of livestock in a search for fresh pasture.
People were poor in material goods but rich in cultural life. Folklore was the school, library, and pharmacy. Seasonal mileposts all had their patron saint and/or guardian spirit who somehow had to be addressed if the powers that be were to continue to help people survive.
IMPORTANCE of DANCE
Dancing and music were much more than entertainment. They were used in lieu of organized sports, theatre, social clubs, dating, even courts.
It was the village social order as well as the village glue, as well as the village’s means of expression.