Kalamatiano (pronounced kah-lah-mah-tee-ah-NOH) is the dance every Greek knows. If you’re only going to learn one Greek dance – this is the one – at least if you want to dance with Greeks. To learn Kalamatiano, it helps to know its older cousin, Syrto. The relationship betewen the two will be explained below.
SYRTO (pronounced seer-TOH). The name translates literally as “to pull”, but more accurately as “to lead”. It’s considered the most ancient of Greek dances, going back possibly 2500 years.
Syrto is at its heart simply walking to a slow, quick quick rhythm. If a slow step is two beats long, and a quick step is one beat, then Slow, Quick Quick, (or S,Q,Q,) would be 4 beats (2+1+1). One Syrto dance is 4 sets of S,Q,Q, 12 steps in total.
Here’s a link to a Greek high school class teaching Syrto to Polish & Romanian students.
Notice how at the 2:43 mark the teacher starts with simply walking to the S,Q,Q, rhythm. At the 3:29 mark, he stamps the slow beats for emphasis. At 3:58 he breaks the dance into walking (1st & 2nd S,Q,Q,) and step-cross-step (2rd & 4th S,Q,Q,). That’s the way I first learned this dance – 6 walking steps and 6 step-cross steps.
At 4:38 the kids demonstrate the dance as it is done by most Greeks today. It’s still walking to a S,Q,Q, rhythm, but the feet are placed differently than if you were walking in a line.
Here’s another link to a Greek-American teaching the same dance. She starts where the other link ends – with the dance as it is done today.
Here’s yet another link that clearly shows where the feet go, though it’s not so good at showing the S,Q,Q, rhythm.
You may have noticed that I’ve been calling the dance Syrto, but most of the links are labeled Kalamatiano. The footwork is the same, but the rhythm of the Kalamatiano music is slightly different. Syrto is the older form, a steady 4/4 rhythm divided into Slow, Quick, Quick.
Starting in the 20th century, some songs using a different rhythm became popular – one of the most popular being a song about the city of Kalamata – where we get Kalamata olives from. It describes the handkerchief (mandili) of a Kalamata girl – a Mandili Kalamatiano.
Whereas the Slow of Syrto songs are 2 beats long, the Slow of Kalamatiano is faster – 1 1/2 beats. In musical terms, Syrto is in 4/4, while Kalamatiano is in 7/8 (8 fast beats equals 4 slow beats). Can you hear the difference between the two?
So technically Syrto music is in 4/4, while Kalamatiano music is in 7/8, but Greeks today seem to use the two terms interchangeably – mostly calling the dance Kalamatiano while recognizing it’s a kind of Syrto.
To cloud the waters, there are MANY regional variations – Syrto can refer to any dance in Greece with a S,Q,Q, rhythm where a leader ‘pulls’ a line. But for the sake of simplicity when I use the term Syrto/Kalamatiano I’ll be referring to THIS dance.
Let’s look at a few more examples. Here’s a of performing group showing what can be done once the basic step is mastered. This one is labeled Kalamatianos, but uses Syrto music.
A variation on the basic step – the little guy can dance!
Most Greeks don’t do anything fancy. Here’s a couple of weddings:
As you can see Greeks can dance this for hours!