Greece Culture: Music and Dance: The Pontious or Black Sea Greeks
From ancient times the southeastern shore of the Black Sea was populated by Greeks, and the Pontic Greeks take their name from the old Greek word for sea, pondos. The area is extremely green and lush, with mountains near the sea, forests, high plateaus, and much rain. With the 'exchange of populations', many of them were settled in Macedonia, both in existing and new villages, the latter most likely helping them to preserve their traditions. Especially helpful in this respect was the conscious attempt to settle Pontic Greeks from the same towns/areas in the same villages. During the late 20th century, however, many of the idiosyncrasies of regional Pontic dances and music have been lost. The main instrument used in Pontic music is the Pontic version of the lyra, or kementze, the form of which is described as 'bottle shaped' (ie. long and rectangular), in contradistinction to the pear-shaped lyras played both in Constantinople and on the Greek mainland and Greek islands. This lyra is also typified as well by the tuning of the strings in fourths, which give its chords a sound extremely strange to the western ear. In addition to this, the rhythms used in Pontic music are also found to be eccentric in the extreme to westerners unused to the sound. The stopping of the strings by the fingers of the left hand is executed with the finger tips, as with the violin, unlike the lateral stopping of strings with the fingernails as is the practice with the other lyras. The Pontic lyra was /is often played solo, with the player in the middle of a circle of dancers, and may even dance himself while playing.
Another instrument played in Pontic music is the touloum (or angion), a bagpipe which resembles the Greek island tsambouna, sometimes accompanied by the daouli, which is also used to accompany the zournas played in some Pontic communities. Shepherds' flutes complete the instrumental picture. In the western Pondos the instruments are violin, daouli, and zournas (with the lyra conspicuously absent), the language closer to commonly spoken Greek than to the Pontic dialect, and much of the folklore, including songs, to be panhellenic. In places where the Pontic lyra is still played these days in Greece (at least in tavernas or kentra-which means, roughly, music clubs), the lyra is often drowned out by electric keyboard (which the Greeks call armonio), electric bass, and/or drum set (which the Greeks call 'dhrams'). Those interested in hearing the more traditional Pontic music without such instruments, must seek out events sponsored by folklore societies, etc. Many rhythms are used in Pontic dance, most of them asymmetric, including 5/8, 7/8, 9/8 and others. There are simple dances and complex ones, and some dances include very agitated movements. There are a couple of kinds of the popular dance known as Tik, one in 5/8, and the other in 7/.8. One variant begins slow and accelerates, the fast part with shaking or 'trembling' movements and hands held at shoulder height. The next more common dance is called Dipat (or Omal Trapezoundeikon-the second word naming the town of Trapezous /Trebizond) and is in a 9/8 meter. This dance comes in two variations, with a different counting of the meter but with the same dance step, and with hand held at shoulder height. There are too many Pontic dances to describe within the scope of the article, but one of the most dramatic for viewers is the Serra, with a frenetic tempo and many variations. Traditionally a men's dance, it is now performed also by girls and women, sometimes in men's costumes (in performing groups). It begins slowly , with swaying movements to a lament, and then accelerates with dancers doing the 'trembling' variant of the Tik. High leaps into the air are made, the hands of the dancers over their heads, with bodies rigid. Many variations are performed with much shouting , and then the dance reverts to the simpler step of Tik before the dance ends. The equally dramatic dance called Mashera/Pitsak Oin, is a knife dance performed by two men, which often follows the Serra, especially in staged performances. Though the basic step is also that of the tik, the dance is most improvised, with foot stamping, dancing on the knees, shoulder shaking, and changes of direction. The miming of the death of one of the dancers (which one decided beforehand) is part of the dance. Both of the above dances require much close interplay between dancers and musicians, the latter watching the dancers in order to match the music to the dancers' movements.
The less frequently seen Pontic dance called Tamzara (also called Omal Nikopoleos) resembles the Turkish dance of the same name as to steps and musical meter (9/8). Another dance, the Tas, is performed to the music of the Russian Hopak, and is often a couple dance, with movements by male dancers characteristic of many Russian dances. Most Pontic Greeks these days include pan-hellenic dances in their repertoire (syrto-kalamatiano, tsamiko, hasapiko, zeimbekiko), as do Greeks all over the country. In the kentra in Athens and Thessaloniki, Cretan dances are also included.