Yassou Dancers

History of Greek Folk Dancing

Greek folk dancing ties Greeks to their past and to their future. Greek folk dancing is very much an active art, both in Greece and throughout the world where Greeks have immigrated. Dancing is a vivid expression of everyday life and every one of all age’s dances at important occasions – weddings, baptisms, family celebrations and community social events. Folk dances are passed down from generation to generation. The origin of many today’s folk dances can be traced back hundreds and thousands of years in the history of the Greeks.  Today’s young dancers have a sense of pride and tradition that they are carrying forward the same dances performed by generations of ancestors. 

There are hundreds of traditional Greek folk dances. Most dances share some common characteristics but each region has developed unique characteristics of their dances, music and costumes. Cretan dances are proud and lively. The dances of Thessaly are controlled and composed. Some of the mountain people’s dances are wild and full of leaps. The dances of Epirus are slow, heavy and dignified. Even a region’s weather and terrain affected dance style based on the clothes and shoes worn.  Many of the dances tell a story.

The most common dances enjoyed at a typical Greek festival in America will be the Syrto, Kalamatiano, Tsamiko and Zembekiko. Most dances are circle dances, starting with the right foot and moving counter-clockwise. Each dancer is linked by a handkerchief or by holding hands, wrists or shoulders. The common “Circle” dance is part of a great Greek tradition that dates back to the Byzantine period. 

 The dances pictured below are the more popular dances performed by the members of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, Jamestown New York.