In Ancient Greece, dancing was held as an elegant feat, and was as much a vehicle for satire and sensuality as words. Orchestrated ballets emulated heroic events while rustic dances celebrated the arrival of spring. In preparation for battle, ancient soldiers would spring and leap through the air, while the ill would shuffle in rhythmic movements to cure physical ailments and depression. With approximately 4,000 traditional dances from all corners of Greece, every imaginable occasion called for a unique pattern of movement.
Dance continues to play a prominent role in Modern Greek life with many ancient dances translating from polytheistic rituals to Greek Orthodox celebrations. Today a nostalgic aroma of the pagan ceremonies of Dionysus, the god of wine, celebration and ecstasy, was left behind throughout the country. During the three-week Carnival season or Apokriés, Greeks of all ages disguise themselves in masquerades, celebrate and perform comical antics.
Despite the same shenanigans, the ceremony’s purpose has changed. Today it serves to bid farewell to meat consumption and prepare the faithful for Lent, while in ancient times the festival celebrated the arrival of spring, and therefore included rituals dedicated to the souls of the dead. Pagan or orthodox, dancing has always been considered food for the soul in Greece. As Plato once said: Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.
Three Things we can learn from this ancient Greek tradition:
1. Connect with the divine through dance. Since Greek Antiquity, the ecstatic connection between music, breath and movement was used to create an egoless space and a profoundly spiritual experience of unity. “Dancing is divine in its nature and is the gift of the gods,” wrote Plato. Next time you turn on the music, dance like no one is watching. Once you start to effortlessly flow with the beat, the mind will fade and it’s at that very moment when you are in direct communion with Spirit.
2. Ensure good health and vitality with moderate exercise. According to Hippocrates, “If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health.” Incorporate at least half an hour of exercise everyday, whether it’s at Zumba class, on the Salsa floor, or at a club with friends.
3. Express yourself through dance. In Greece, each dancer is typically linked by a handkerchief or by holding hands, wrists or shoulders, and at some spontaneous moment one of the dancers will break away from the group to improvise. Get creative when you dance. Mix various step variants with the basic step of a dance to create something new at any given moment. Use this moment of complete freedom to express joy, sadness, strength, pride, sensuousness, or humor.