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The Pentozali or Pentozalis is the trademark folk dance of the island of Crete. It takes its name from its five ("pente") basic steps and its sprightly and ultimately very fast pace ("zalos" being a rare Greek word for "jump"). The name can thus be translated as "five-jumps", its typically Greek wordplay implying that dancing it can make one jump five times over. Also in the spirit of wordplay, "zali" means dizziness, and the name of the dance can also be understood ("five-dizzy") as one that can make the dancers dizzy five times over.

The Pentozali is a war dance, vigorous, with high jumping movements and allows for much improvisation. It starts at a moderate pace and accelerates progressively. The dancers hold each other by the shoulders and form an incomplete circle, which rotates counterclockwise very slowly, or sometimes not at all, because most of the lively steps are semistationary. The first dancer is expected to improvise engaging in acrobatics; in this case he and the second dancer hold hands, rather than shoulders, and the second dancer stands still and rigid, so that the first dancer has a stable base on which to perform. Once the first dancer has finished his part, he is expected to break ranks and slowly dance his way to the back of the line, yielding his place to the second, and so on. Women also perform the dance, but their steps are more restrained because their dress does not allow for high jumps. Traditional Cretan menswear, on the other hand, facilitates acrobatic dancing as it includes the black vraka, a variant of breeches that are worn tight around the waist and thighs and extremely baggy and loose around the hips.

Pentozali music is instrumental: the main tune is played by the pear-shaped, bowed Cretan lyre, to the accompaniment of a lute, played not in a melodic but in a percussive-like fashion. It is the lyre player who usually directs the flow of the dance: he improvises to signal the first dancer to improvise too, and resumes the main tune when it is time for the first dancer to yield his place to another.

It has often been suggested that this may be the descendant of a Minoan dance, perhaps that of the Kouretes, a mythical troupe of ancient warriors. There is a forgotten dance of the area of the Psiloritis Mountains where the Kouretes lived, called Empyrrikios (from the ancient dance Pyrrhichios), whose steps are very similar to Pentozali.

See also

Greek dances
Greek music
Byzantine music
Greek folk music

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