Tsifteteli is a captivating dance that originated in Greece. This energetic dance style follows a rhythm commonly found across the Middle East. The name “tsifteteli” is derived from the Turkish word “chifteteli,” which originally meant “two strings.” In this article, we will explore the history, significance, and modern adaptation of this captivating dance form.
The Origins of Tsifteteli
Tsifteteli was introduced to Greece by the Greeks from Asia Minor, who were forced to leave their hometowns due to a population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Greece was under Turkish occupation for approximately 400 years, as part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1821, Greece waged a war against the Turks for independence and eventually became a free and independent nation in the mid-19th century.
The Greek colonies on the west coast of Asia Minor were established around 1000 BC and spread to the Black Sea shore. Greek cities and towns thrived in these areas until 1922. Unfortunately, a devastating war between Greece and Turkey resulted in the destruction of many Greek cities in Asia Minor, with Smyrna (Izmir) being particularly affected. As a consequence of this war, Greece and Turkey agreed to exchange their remaining populations, except for 100,000 Greeks in Constantinople (Istanbul) and a similar number of Turks in northeastern Greece and certain Greek Islands.
The population exchange posed numerous challenges for the new Greek State. The Greeks who migrated from Turkey had lost everything, and the Greek government had to assist them. However, given the country’s financial constraints, the situation for the immigrants was dire. The Greek immigrants from Smyrna, in particular, settled in urban areas like Athens and Piraeus. These Greeks brought with them a rich musical tradition, which became a blend of Greek, Turkish, Armenian, and Arab elements. This musical tradition, known as “Rembetiko” or Greek Blues, not only included music but also various dances such as Zeibekiko, Hassapiko, and Tsifteteli. Hence, it was primarily the Greeks from Smyrna who popularized tsifteteli throughout Greece.
While there may have been belly dance in Greece before this era, some archaeologists suggest that it dated back to ancient Greece, where women used it as a form of worship for Aphrodite (Venus). There may also have been belly dance during the Byzantine Empire, as the Greeks had significant cultural interactions with Arabs and other Middle Eastern populations at that time. Nonetheless, the tsifteteli that we know today was introduced to Greece by the people of Smyrna and initially became part of the Rebetiko culture. Over the past 80 years, it has evolved and spread across Greece, firmly establishing itself as one of the most popular and celebrated Greek dances, alongside zeibekiko.
The Significance of Tsifteteli
Tsifteteli holds immense importance in Greek music and culture. It is a dance that can be performed by both men and women, either individually, as couples, or in group formations. However, if you have visited Greece, you are likely aware that tsifteteli is primarily associated with seductive female performances. Many women dance tsifteteli on tables or bars, aiming to captivate and entice the men who eagerly watch, ready to vie for their attention.
The original tsifteteli songs had deeply melancholic lyrics, reflecting the hardships and struggles of the people who created them. These songs addressed poverty, immigration, lost love, and desperation. Contrary to popular belief outside of Greece, tsifteteli is not merely a cheerful dance; it carries profound emotional weight.
In contemporary times, the songs accompanying tsifteteli have taken on a more lighthearted and humorous tone. Some songs even include nonsensical lyrics. The music has evolved to resemble modern Arab music, particularly pop ballads. As a result, it has become common to dance the Arabian Raks Sharqi to modern tsifteteli music.
Tsifteteli is now performed in various settings throughout Greece, including folklore feasts, nightclubs, bouzoukia clubs (Greek-style nightclubs), private parties, and weddings. However, it is rare to witness a professional dancer perform tsifteteli. Only a handful of venues, such as some bouzoukia clubs and select tourist restaurants, feature dancers. In most instances, these dancers perform either Arabic Raks Sharqi or American-style belly dancing, not the traditional tsifteteli.
The Social Dance Experience
Tsifteteli is primarily a social dance, often enjoyed in pairs or groups. Participants engage in improvised movements, using dance as a means of communication. When a man and woman dance together, they engage in playful flirtation, conveying their emotions through the sensuous sway of their hips.
This inherent flirtatiousness is one of the reasons why tsifteteli remains exceptionally popular in Greek music and stages. It encapsulates the expression of the soul and the intricacies of love through movement.
To learn more about tsifteteli and explore various dance forms, visit Ratingperson, where you can delve into the rich world of Greek culture and entertainment.