Kalamatianó, Καλαματιανό/Syrtó, Συρτό – Greece

Kalamatianó (pronounced kah-lah-mah-tee-ah-NOH, hence the accent over the last ‘ó‘) 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 Kalamatianó, it helps to know its older cousin, Syrtó. The relationship betewen the two will be explained below.

Syrtó (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. Syrtó 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 Syrtó dance is 4 sets of S,Q,Q, 12 steps (16 beats) in total. Here’s a YouTube of a Greek high school class teaching Syrtó 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 YouTube of 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 YouTube 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 Syrtó, but most of the YouTubes are labeled KalamatianóThe footwork is the same, but the rhythm of the Kalamatianó music is slightly different. Syrtó 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 Kalamatianó.

Whereas the Slow of Syrtó songs are 2 beats long, the Slow of Kalamatianó is faster – 1 1/2 beats.  In musical terms, Syrto is in 4/4, while Kalamatianó is in 7/8 (8 fast beats equals 4 slow beats).  Can you hear the difference between the two rhythms?

So technically Syrtó music is in 4/4, while Kalamatianó music is in 7/8, but Greeks today seem to use the two terms interchangeably – mostly calling the dance Kalamatianó while recognizing it’s a kind of Syrtó. To cloud the waters, there are MANY regional variations – Syrtó 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 terms Syrtó or Kalamatianó I’ll be referring to THIS dance – the dance seen on this posting.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

Here’s a performing group showing what can be done once the basic step is mastered. This one is labeled Kalamatianó, but uses Syrtó 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!

Music for Kalamatianos

Wikipedia says: “Kalamatiano songs are many and popular – some of the more traditional kalamatiano songs are Samiotissa (The girl from Samos), Mandili Kalamatiano (Kerchief from Kalamata), Milo Mou Kokkino (My Red Apple), To Papaki (The Duckling), Mou Pariggile To Aidoni (The Nightingale sent me a message), Ola Ta Poulakia (All Birds), etc. An especially haunting example of the kalamatianos, Mekapses Yitonissa (Μέκαψες Γειτόνισσα), was recorded for the National Geographic Society‘s groundbreaking Music of Greece album, released in 1968.

For sheet music and lyrics for Samiotissa, click: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/sheet-music/samiotissa-sm/ For Mandili kalamatiano lyrics, click: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/lyrics-english-translations/kalamatiano-mantili-kalamatiano-lyrics/ For Mandili kalamatiano sheet music, click: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/sheet-music/kalamatiano-mantili-kalamatiano-sheet-music/

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