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Nikos Kontinakis: Email about Koutalia Dance

About: Koutalia dance
Date: Wednesday, 12th January 2005 11:20 a.m.

Dear Miss Henkel,

I will try to explain the "spoon dance" to you.

To begin with the name, in Modern Greek you can call the dance "o horos ton koutalion" (the dance of the spoons) or simply "koutalia" (spoons) but in some Cappadocian dialects the word "koutalia" was pronounced "houliare". Also, a more complete title in Cappadocian would be "I pegnh me ta houliare" (the "game" with the spoons), where "pegnh" in Cappadocian means the word "paixnidi" in Modern Greek ("game" but also "toy"). The word "pegnh" has, therefore, an ambiguous meaning but it is used to denote a happy dance instead of other religious (and austere) dances that people used to dance in Cappadocia. The dance is named so to denote the obvious fact that each dancer holds a pair of wooden spoons, with a specific pattern. In each hand and uses them to accompany the rhythm of the percussion musician or more properly to generate the rhythm while dancing.

The "spoon dance" is, possibly, the most famous dance in Cappadocia and it was danced throughout all Cappadocian regions. Initially, it was danced by pairs of men, but later (end of 19th and early 20th century) by mixed pairs and pairs of women only. Of course, women and men have different degree of "freedom" during the dancing (e.g. women dance is more modest) which is a direct consequence of the social conditions at that moment. The spoon dance, nevertheless, has some variations, for example Farassa dancers and Ikonio dancers are practising a slightly different kind of steps, but the rhythm pattern, the mood of the dancers etc etc remain the same throughout the whole Cappadocia. Generally, the "spoon dance" is categorised along with the karsilamades (pl. of karsilamas) dances, which are danced from a pair of dancers.

One last remark is about the role of the spoons. For reasons that are debated or yet to be firmly established, percussion instruments play an unusually important role in Cappadocian music. Among usual musical instruments there are wooden spoons, pans, cuvettes, little glasses etc. Wooden spoons are the most robust, small-sized, common found etc.

Unfortunately, there is almost no documentation (photos, films) of the Christian Cappadocian people in their original locations. All this knowledge of the Cappadocian civilization is mostly orally preserved, though nowadays there are a few books that deal with these matters. We'll try to find a couple a photos to send you but it would be a good start to look at pictures from dancing groups like the ones in our site. Please feel free to write for any more information or clarifications.

With our best regards and best wishes for a happy new year,
Nikolas Kontinakis

Nikos Kontinakis is sponsor of the theoretical class of the non-profit association „Workshop of Art and Culture“ which aims to preserve, spread and promote the Greek culture.

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Bettina Henkel, Secession 2004