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The Relationship between Song And Dance In Karpathos

By Marigoula Kritsioti &  Alkis Raftis


Karpathos is located in the southeastern and of the Aegean Sea, between Rhodes and Crete. It is the second largest island of the Dodekanese Islands Group. It has a population of 5,000 residing in twelve villages and a large number of (Karpathian) people living abroad. The Karpathians call the southern villages, The Lower Villages, and the northern villages, which are somewhat inaccessible, The Upper Villages. The rich poetic tradition of Karpathos is expressed whether by improvised fifteen-syllable couplets called Mantinades, or by multi- versed song (Traghoudhia) which have a crystallized form. Both types are used to accompany dances, together with traditional musical instruments.

The songs are old and numerous and correspond to the traditional way of life. The singers knew which songs were appropriate and competed as to who would sing the best one. G. Chalkias writes about a young man who went as far as Saria, a nearby island, to learn a song from an old singer two days before a party and make an impression at the dance with this song which the others didn’t know. It is natural that today the same songs no longer express the principles and the values of the changed society; many, however, are still sung. In addition, the young singers, to a certain point, know songs that have a relationship with the purpose of each type of entertainment and at what point to sing them. When the song indirectly declared the feelings of the singer, the couplets were means for communication and subjective expression. The Karpathians compose couplet concerning a particular subject or an event with amazing ease without repeating earlier ones. These have a very important social function, which is evident in dance events.

In the repertoire of Karpathian dances, we find those which are not accompanied by song and are fast Pano Coros, Sousta, And Arkistis, Some are accompanied by song during the slow part of the dance, such as: Zervos, Antipatitis, and Keflaonitika.

Others are accompanied by song throughout: Foumistos (a wedding dance), Sianos or Kato Choros, gonatistos, and the Carnival dances Sakellaris and Piperi.

In the dances that are sung only in their slow part, this Kefalonitika, couplets are sung, together with breaks (tsakismata), to a concrete melody. At times, the couplets are relative to the reason for having a party and are obligatory. One characteristic couplet, which is linked to the name of the dance, is the one below: “The Kephalonitika (ships) at Pyrgho are moored, and await the weather, the unfortunate ones, to leave”.

Multi-versed songs are adapted to the melodies of th Zervos and Antipatitis dances. The singer begins and the others repeat his words. Even a second or third party can sing. The dancers, the musicians, and those present have the right to sing, but not the women. At some point, the song ends and the musicians and dancers proceed onto the fast part. In the Zervos the slow melody has three variations of which the third gives the signal to begin the fast section. After a while, the slow part is repeated. The latter change is determined by the musicians or a singer who continues singing the song from the point where it stopped. Since the song is long, it is completed in stages alternating with the fast part of the dance and affording the opportunity for many to sing. There are many songs used for the Zervos dance. They consist of fifteen-syllabic verses and have a large variety of themes. The Antipartitis is of eight-syllable verse and does not have many songs three of them are well known.

The Zervos is danced in all the villages of Karpathos with few differences in the steps of the fast section. The Antipatitis is a dance of Meoschori, where as the Kefalonitika is danced in the upper Villages, especially in Elympos and Spoa. In the old days, it used to be danced in the Lower Villages as well.

The fast dances are accompanied only by musical instruments, i.e. without songs. there is, however, vidence that couplets were sung to them. Uutstanding example to this was Balanos (an old musician who passed away years ago) who used to sing hundreds of couplets to the Pano Choros and the Sousta for which he sought payment  from the dancers.

We refer now to the dances that are accompanied entirely by song. The Foumistos, the official wedding dance, is danced immediately after the reception implicit, by the full participation of relatives and friends in the dance and in the way the musicians play. The latter walk inside the dance circle, stand before the newlyweds, kneel while bowing deeply and then lift their instruments above their heads, playing all the time.

“The Foumistos is both a serious and an official wedding dance which shows the grandeur of the lineage”. The dance becomes a show of numbers and the good qualities of the two families. The parents of the couple invite friends and acquaintances from nearby villages in order to honor them with their participation in the Foumistos. Relatives of the groom link up to his right and of the bride to her left in one open circle. Even others participate who wouldn’t normally dance, such as married women, old women, and women whose husbands are away.

Friends and acquaintances who haven’t danced, keep coming up and joining in the dance so that the circle forms two and even three spirals. The dancers use the front basket-weave hold to link up in the open circle. In the Lower Villages, the dance moves continuously to the right, i.e. counter-clockwise, with small walking steps, whereas in the Upper Villages it circles around two steps to the right and one to the left. The dancers lean slightly to the right moving slowly according to the rhythm as if in a procession. Even before the dance starts, the standing musicians play the tune of the Foumistos, called Syrmatikos, announcing thus the gathering of the kinfolk. During the whole dance, the same tune, which is long drawn-out and imposing, is heard. The songs that are sung to this tune, the Syrmatikos, are usually long and recitative.

There are many of these songs in Carpathos with a variety of subject matter: historical, acritic (songs reputedly of the 9th Cent.  A.C. concerning the border guards of the eastern bounderies of the East Roman Empire), love, and immigration. In the Foumistos itself, historical and acritic songs are not used. The singers choose subjects which relate somehow to the wedding. An common song illustrating this is: “You’re casting me out, mother; you’re casting me out, bet I  want to leave anyway” which is connected to the departure of the groom from his parental home and his establishing himself in the home of the bride; or the “Girl who saw her husband off when he went abroad….” (in the old days, the men went abroad and returned after many years during which period, the wives didn’t dance and didn’t dress up in their good clothes, expressing in this way their faith in their husbands). This song says that for thirty years the wife did not bathe, nor wear her good clothes or go to church until her husband returned. The songs are sung by one of the musicians or a relative or even a friend who usually walks along with the musicians hugging another friend with whom he alternates in singing.

The songs break up the monotony of the plain walking step of this dance, not only coloring its tediousness but also securing time with of its many verses, for those relatives and rinds who had been defter into various jobs related to the wedding to join in the dance circle as they had pledged to do. By participating in the Foumistos dance, the social gathering demonstrates respect end appreciation for the two extended families and renders humor to the two young persons at the time they are undertaking new social responsibilities.

The Foumistos was customarily performed from old times in Spoa, Mesochori and in the Lower Villages except Arkasa and Menetes. In Elympos every Shrove Monday all the newly wedded couples of the year used to be praised in the dance, in which there was no participation of lineage. The dance was connected with the annual payment of the musicians.

Likewise slow and ritualistic is the Sianos or Kato Choros (1os dance) to which couplets are sung to a variety of tunes. The couplets consist of blessings and raises appropriate to the situation. At joyful family celebrations (baptisms, engagements, weddings, etc.), they are dedicated to the couple, the basement, and the in-laws. For example, after a father has sung his blessings to his daughter, he leaves his place to someone else to praise her by saying: “It doesn’t do for me to praise you because you are my daughter. During your lifetime, you’ll be praised on your own merits, my child”. Another person sings to the bride who is given with gold coins: “I’ve never seen such a hard parent as yours, weighing you down like this with gold, risking to cut your neck”. At a baptism, they sing about the newly baptized child, the parents, and the god-parents. On feast days, the couplets are dedicated to the owners of chapels, those who have vineyards nearby, benefactors, and celebrants.

The couplets sung at dancing laces on weekends, during Carnival dances and those dedicated to girls have a special significance. According to dance etiquette, the first girl to the right of every man is his partner. All the other girls of his party link up on the same side to his right. The unmarried man’s fiancée is called “armasti”. This position is exclusively hers and only when she has taken in can another girl link up next to her. A young man who doesn’t have a special girlfriend will have his sister or cousin link up next to him. The girls who do not have a special boyfriend link up next to married men to whom they are related or have some other ties with. The man is obliged to honor with couplets the female dancers who are to his right. If he wishes, he can also sing to the girls who are to his left or elsewhere in the circle. Only an unmarried first-born girl can take part in the dance and continue to do so undid someday she gets married. It is only then that her next younger sister can enter the dance, and so on until all of the sisters according to age eventually marry.

Dance was the most significant opportunity for boys and girls to create and develop personal relationships, in a socially acceptable manner, which were to culminate en marriage. When the married women are asked why they don’t dance, they answer: “We’ve gotten married; we have settled down. ‘s not proper to have girls of marriageable age dancing together with us. Now, it’s their turn”. Characteristic of the significance of the dance is the following ironic couplet: “From the days of old, a girl dances; tough regimes have come and gone, she still seeks a husband”.

The dancers sing one after the other without following any p particular order. Someone can even sing who is not in the circle of dancers. Especially important are those couplets of highly respected individuals with social authority. The couplets of praise are directed, for the most part, towards the “Kanakares”, i.e. the first-born girls of rural families who inherit all of their mothers’ property when married. The first-born children from the higher social groups of the island are in contrast to those of the livestock breeders who don’t own land. The couplets extol the family’s origin, its property, its hospitability, honesty, morality, etc. in other words, the couplets make known publicly the good qualities of each family and to excess at that, e.g. “In the place where the first-born one puts wheat, you put gold and pearls”. The public praises fortify the prestige of each girl and help her take her place among the much sought after bridal candidates.

It is said that the couplets could make or break a relationship, influencing favorably or negatively the common view held about a specific individual, who could even be a man. Indeed, the couplets often were able to change the views and decisions of a particular person or his/her family. Because it was important to successfully promote their girls’ image, mothers would select the position for their girls in the dance taking care to put them next to a dancer who was a particularly good composer of verses and a singer too. Such people were usually shepherds. Even though they were thought of as socially inferior and unsuitable as neighbors were in the customary dances, in this case the shepherds were preferred for the above reason. It was especially important that the girl be sung about the first time she participated in a public dance so that she would take her place in the social life of the community in praiseworthy terms thus anticipating her future laudable appearances. For this reason, the parents reward the singer who praises their daughter, especially in such situations, with various gifts in kind. Often, a mother or grandmother will ask a singer with whom she is familiar to praise her daughter. Under no circumstance do they want their girl to be considered unsought-after due to the lack of having praiseworthy couplets directed towards her. The people mockingly call a girl “anezitichti”, i.e. unsought-after, whom no one ever thought of praising in the dance. This meant that she had never been honored as a significant bridal candidate.

The dance mirrors, to a degree, the unwritten laws of the social environment, the role of the man and woman within it, the financial, kinship, and personal bonds, which link individuals according to their social status. The woman shows devotion and honor towards the man before as well as after the wedding. The place of the girl in the dance is next to her fiancée: “The fish in the sea swims with its fins, and wherever one’s true love is, be next to him”. The fiancée’s absence is interpreted as evidence of the dissolution of the relationship. For the fiancée to dance next to another young man is an insult to the fiancée. This often causes a public quarrel, which prompts such a couplet: “Listen you fool to how the lyra is being played for you. The one you love is dancing elsewhere and is deriding you”.

People say that the dance is the same for the wealthy as it is or the poor: “It makes no distinction”. The girl, however, who is not first-born can’t dance next to people who are not of her social standing. If she should do this, the people would find a way to indicate the distance in social niveau by retiring gracefully from the dance, or react with couplets: “The sea is on one side and the sea is on the other, and in the middle is a boat with juiceless oranges”. Or “three girls are dancing, one is a zerzephylli (a type of flower); the other’s a carnation and the next is a flower”. In Menetes, the first-born girls don’t participate in the dances, which are thought of as unofficial dances. In other words, they considered such dances undignified, suitable only for the “troutsoi”, i.e. the inferiors, shown by the following couplet: “the shepherdesses were dancing in the ruins, as if in had spilled bran and gathered the chickens”.

The ordinary girls, i.e. the second-born, even if they have the advantage of extraordinary beauty, are not sung about and are thus held at a distance from those who have a “name” and are fist-born. Exceptions exist, however, as shown by the couplets of the Sianos Choros below, which only someone in love, contrary to social convention, would be able to sing: “I look on the side and on the other, but I don’t compare property with beauty”. Concerning the girl the girl to his right and the one to his left, i.e. the first-born one and the beautiful one. The following couplet better describes the situation: “Clear blue sky with the morning stars, you darken the first-born ones whose name are written down” (i.e. have lost hope to marry).

Landowners coexist with live stockbreeders in a relationship of superiority throughout the manifestation of social life. Although emigration gas changed the economic situation of live stock breeders, land-owners still do not accept the economic situation of live stock breeders, land-owners still do not accept them socially and try to keep them at a distance. An couplet was sung about a newly rich girl who joined in the dance wearing clothes of the type normally worn by first-born girls: “Since Ernia Nikole has dressed in a Kontokhi (a fine short jacket), nobody else wants to wear one”. Naturally, family fortunes change hands and the local archondes tend to lose their prestige gradually. An some point, they no longer differ in the size of vineyards, in the amount of money or in power from those of the new order who became wealthy abroad. In spite of all this, the archondes still have the benefit of lineage, an advantage that is worth more than money. The following couplet was sung to a first-born girl, whose family became poor, when she joined in the dance: No matter how much the royal well-springs diminish, their water is still gold though it may be reduced to drops”.

Simple situation and incidents that take place in the circle of dancers and the area around them are commented upon: “The women from Its lea, during the dance, they nibble away at the olives they’ve brought in their aprons spitting out the pits”. This couplet was sung about the cunning women of the It is lea districts of Elympos who sat around for hours observing the dancing while having a snack and commenting to each other about various things. People often made public their personal affairs. For example, even though it was unbefitting for a woman in this conventional society, a housewife continued to yearn for her former beloved displaying her affection for him publicly even though he had gotten married. Her former suitor sang to her: “Oh, girl of Kalaitzis get a divorcé so that I can marry you”. Her husband then sang to her: “Oh girl of Kalaitzis, tend to your work, otherwise I’ll step out with a partridge (i.e. a beautiful girl) and burn your heart”. Actually, the latter ended up marrying a close family relation for hears later on after getting a divorce. One of the men was interested in a particular girl, but she characterized him as a salt shaker, i.e. worthless. Later on during the resumption of the dance, she linked up next to him showing interest this time, but he then sang to her: “First I was a salt-shaker, now I’ve become a soup tureen. Even if you became a gold fork, I’d push you aside”. She began to cry, so he added: “Don’t shed tears; don’t shed blood. Even if you’d dip yourself in blood, who would look at you”

Today, the Sianos Choros and its couplets have lost their social significance. In the Lower Villages, it has not been danced and sang to for a long time. In Elympos, where it is still danced only the only-timers sing to its tune. The young people who participate in it do not sung any special love couplets. People say: “There aren’t any young people anymore who have hot coals (of love) within them”. It appears that the young men do not have any steady sweethearts. Every time they dance, they link up to a girl they like, but they don’t sing to her because the couplets could be interpreted as a request for marriage. The young people today don’t become betrothed publicly anymore, but follow another path to the marriage altar.  The few multi-versed songs, which were sung alternating with couplets so that the singers could rest and refresh their minds, have become numerous and tend to replace the couplets. The Sianos Choros often lasted three or four hours until all the dancers had sung and afterwards the Ghonatisos dance would begin. This latter dance was also accompanied by song while being performed.

The Ghonatistos has three or four different melodies to which multi-versed heptasyllabic and octosyllabic songs with lightsome subjects are sung to in a lilting rhythm. Since it links the kato Choros with the Pan Choros the movement of the dancers increases in stages and liads them into the more vigorous springy movement of the Pano Ghoros, the Ghonatisos Choros is danced only in Elympos and lasts until the dancers get “hot”, i.e. get in the mood for the Pan Choros.

There are other dances that are accompanied by song and are long forgotten, such as: the Blachos (“At the opening of the door…”), the Angaliastos (“At the marble stones of Ghalata….”), and the syrtos (“I’ll taki hold of my beloved….”) which are mentioned by M. Protopsaltis. Up to now, we have not found anything more enlightening about these dances from informants.

Now, we move on to the carnival dances: Sakellaris and Piperi. The Sakellaris is also one of the forgotten dances. No one remembers it except in the villages Mesochori and Spoa. People say it was a funny dance; it had a particular song and was danced during carnival or at the end of an unofficial party.

The Piperi is still danced in a few villages on clean Monday, i.e. Shrove Monday, usually in an open space. The masked dancers link up in an open circle using a front basket-weave hold and dance as in the Kato Choros bending their knees on the middle step and sing bawdy songs. The dance leader gives the signal for the dancers to “grind pepper” according to the words of the song: “How do the devil’s monks grind pepper;”. The leader then think of various means of doing this: “with the knee” or “with the back, they grind it and pulverize it into powder” at this point, all the dancers scatter and mime the “grinding of pepper” according to the indication of the leader. The dancers return to the circle when the leader sings again: “How do they rind pepper” and they continue performing the action called for by the song. Whoever does not perform the action because of feeling embarrassed gets beaten by the leader with a small hard ball knotted into a large kerchief. The dancers, moreover, perform various shameless movements teasing one another and thus provoke mirth. Tin such carnival dances, the dancers act out the words of the song. The people of Elympos say: “We don’t dance such dances”.

Not only don’t the women take part in the carnival dances but also they withdraw to the nearest parapets and roves to observe from a distance. The women generally don’t sing at the dances. On the other hand, information from the living tradition says that women did dance while singing and Gr. Mikhailidis- Nouaros writes about songs that were sung by the women when dancing after the men got tired.

Between dance and song, there does not seem to be any apparent economic relationship. Parents say  that it is a shame for one to be paid to sing about their daughters. The example, however, of the singer who is rewarded with a gift forces one to believe that the opposite is true, if one also takes into account that in the past at every wedding the singers/musicians were paid in kind. The more song and dance are disconnected, the more the a financial factor becomes crucial. The man who takes the lead with his girlfriend next to him in the Pan Choros a dance unaccompanied by song, pays the  musicians since he is dancing with his girlfriend showing her off and honoring her an the same time with such payment. At a party where there was no dancing, the couplets are the reason for payment. The man to whom a couplet is directed, i.e. the one who is being honored by someone else, pays the musicians. in both situation, there develops a three-part relationship: honoring, honored-payer, musician paid. In any case, someone else can also pay and so contributes to the attributed honour. The money given does not have to be a particular amount according to some set rule, bat is relative to the financial means of the one who is paying and which said means is known by everyone present.

As singing in couplet moves from a non-dance party to a dance party or celebration, the financial rapport decreases. The multiverse songs do not require the individual (singer or musician) to be paid, whether these are sung during a dance or not. Wherever the factor of remuneration exists, it concerns the musician and not the singer.

We have described the dance customs, as they were developed many decades ago, according to the information collected from a large number of interviews with elderly Karpathians in the last two years. It must be mentioned, however, that there exists a clear laxity in the old rule increasing with time in each village but varying in level from one village to the other. This is apparent geographically as well, the maintenance of convention is greater as one moves to the north of the island, ending in Elympos.


Translated by Ted Petridis



(Only the books in Greek are given in English)


Baud-Bovy, Samuel: Songs of the Dodecanesos Book II, Athens, Sidheris, 1938.

Gheorghiandis, Minas G.: Introduction to the Dances of Karpathos, Karpathos No 1/1979

Chalkias, Gheorghios A. The Muse of Olympo,Karpathos, Athens 1980

Kritsiot, Marigoula: Karpathan Tunes, record notes, Athens, Phalireas Bros 1987.

Mikhailidis-Nouaros, M.G.: Demotic Songs of Karpathos Athens 1928

Protopsaltis, Manolis: The Dances of Karpathos, Hellenic Letters, Book II 1928

Raftis, Alkis: Systeme social et systéme de dance La ronde a Karpathos.

Raftis, Alkis: The World of Greek Dance, Athens Polytypo, 1975 (also in English)

Vernier, Bernard: La circulation des biens à Karpathos. Actes de la recherché en sciences socials No 31, Janvier 1980.



(Only the records in Greek are given in English)

1.       Demotic Music production manager: Levteris Bhrandakis Athens, Lyceum of Greek Women LDGW 105.

2.       Musid and Dances by N. Pavlides New York, Adelpotis Olympiton Karpathou DWR 6822 B.

3.       Musica popolare del Dodecaneso a cura di Wolf Dietrich Milano, ALBATROS VPA 8295

4.       Hellenic Cemotic Music supervisor: Phoebus Anogheianakis, Navplion, Greece Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation PFF2 ua. PFF

5.       Songs of Kasos and Karpathos Artistic and general Director: Simon Karas society for the Dissemination of National music SDNM 103 Athens.