The Leader in Greek Dance

By Athan Karras

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Athan Karras 1955 The leader in the Greek dance today is a phenomenon that can be traced back to ancient Greece. The early pre-dithyrambic dance songs were group dance songs which originally gave no credence to anyone leading the line. Perhaps it might even be conceived that the circle dance was a closed circle. Circle being used in folk dance because it is a universal symbol of infinity.

Later these dithyrambic dance songs began to honor various heroes or gods such as Dionysos, god of wine, and perhaps at some moment in the celebration one of the dancers would enact Dionysos and thus become the leader. To do this, the closed circle must have broken, making an open circle line dance with one person leading the line. This became evident in about the fifth century B.C., at a time when another important notion was being born. In Greece at that time the instinct of the individual was slowly developing and individual rights were being discussed. In other words, the prime notions of democracy were being born.

The leader in the Greek folk dance today not only represents the dramatic feeling and captivated attention of the participants, but also the relationship of the individual to the group. Man has an opportunity to express his feelings and to interpret those of the group, while exhibiting his prowess in his role of 'leader'. He then surrenders the lead in true democratic fashion, handing it over to another lead who does the same. The leader leads the people to the dance and almost has to 'inspire' them to keep them in line. This force or charisma that he exudes, as in the 'syrtos' (dragging), is usurped by the group in the common feeling of gaining a larger identity.

The leader is now compelled to action, for he is not only telling his own story, but has become the interpretor of their joy and exaltation.


Used with permission of the author.