Ever since Anthony Quinn slid across the screen in Mihalis Cacoyannis’s 1963 film Zorba the Greek, tourists to Greece have been in thrall of a dance that has become identified with the country, and especially its nightlife.
Ironically, the syrtaki that Zorba performs isn’t a real dance at all: it is a version of the hasapiko, a dance with roots in mythology and the slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus. And Poros, of course, has a distinctive version of the hasapikos which is locals often spontaneously perform at tavernas, bars, or family gatherings.
Yannis Poulakis, a local historian and author, says the modern version of this ancient dance can be traced to Asia Minor during Byzantium when it was performed by butchers (in Greek, hasapis) with knives. The dance later spread through the Balkans and was copied by Serbs and Albanians. Another version known as the hasaposervikos is faster.
The hasapiko is performed by two or more dancers and was initially associated with seamen and ports, as well as urban areas. Accompanying music was played on the bouzouki or a long-necked version of the instrument known as the baglamas, with the violin or santouri or both worked into the melodies later. Its basic meter is the 2/4.
The Poros hasapiko embellishes the dance’s classic steps with several unique dance figures with names like mesa-exo (inside-outside), sourta-spasta (dragged-bent), koutso (hop), miso kleisto (half closed) as well as leaping or squatting somersaults. Each dancer in the line choses which figures he wishes to perform, which the other dancers must follow or support. You can pick out old friends from the harmony in their dance movements—their pace, the height to which they lift their bent legs.
The basic steps are easy to learn—and locals are more than willing teachers. So if you see a line forming, with dancers arrayed next to each other with their hands on each other’s shoulders, don’t hesitate to join in.