Cretan Music & Dances

Traditional Cretan Music & Dances, Crete

The Cretan's close relationship to music and dancing can be traced back to the beginning of the history and myths of the island. In one of the most famous myths, that of the "Kourites" for example, it is described that the Kourites, the guardians of the infant Zeus, danced while beating their shields in order to cover the infant's crying.

Furthermore, historical testimonies give evidence of this relationship as well as pieces of art such as the well-known sarcophagus from Agia Triada, on which for the first time a lyra with seven cords is depicted.

Dance in Crete


Crete : Cretan Music and Dances
Video :
The musicians appearing in the video are: Stelios Petrakis, Vaggelis Vardakis, Antonis Martsakis, Ross Daly, Giorgos Xylouris, Harilaos Papadakis, Zaharis Spyridakis, Dimitris Sgouros.

With respect to the same issue Homer mentioned the shield of Achilles, which was ornamented with pictures displaying revelry at Knossos.

All these testimonies give an exact description of the geographical area where music and dancing were of major importance in every event of people's life, as for example in the event of religious ceremonies, entertainment, birth, marriage, death and even war.

The basic instrument of Cretan music, the Cretan lyra, first made its appearance in the 17th century, while the art of playing the lyre became common practice from the 18th century.

It is a small, pear-shaped, three-string fiddle, held upright and played by stopping the strings from the side with fingernails, widespread in Crete and the Dodecanese.

The strings are named

1. psilí or kandí or kandini;

2. mesakí;

3. vourgara.

Of course the initial shape of the instrument was rather different from that of the lyre of modern times, which the Rethymnon citizen Manolis Stagakis built in 1940. The lyre was first accompanied by the "boulgari" and only later by the "laouto", the fretted lute, which is still used today.

Cretan Lyra

Both the sound and shape of the Cretan lyre and the traditional songs were improved after World War II; to the music of the lyre, the laouto and occasionally of the violin and the guitar, the musicians sing "mantinades", which are mainly amorous compositions arranged in couplets.

Apart from the mantinades, the "rizitika", which are slow songs of narrative character, are also a widespread variety of Cretan music. Their main subjects are marriage, death, historical events, heroic characters etc.

Closely connected to the traditional music and songs as they developed in the course of time was the art of dancing, which the Cretans improved to a large degree.

The roots of Cretan dances date back to Minoan times. Contrary to the "syrtos", which is danced in a large circle, the "sousta" is danced by couples. It is an erotic and vigorous dance, which is danced almost on the tip of the toes.

Pentozali (=dizzy five-step), with its small, rapid foot movements and leaps, is one of the most characteristic and most popular dances of Crete, its island of origin. In western Crete, Pentozali is often preceded by a Siganos (slow) Pantozali in which the dancers, holding hands, sing as they dance two step-swings forward and two step-swings backward as the line moves slowly to the right. The "five steps" of the dance refer to the five "dizzying" movements: 1) forward, 2) backward, 3) left, 4) right, 5) up.