(meaning sea in Greek, Karadeniz in Turkish) is a large region
located in the northeastern corner of present-day Turkey.
Greek-speaking communities initially colonized the region sometime
around 800 BC, and flourishing city-states continued to rise along the
shores of the Black Sea in the millennia to come. The region was also a
strong border province of the later Byzantine Empire, and the city of
Trapezounta (todays Trabzon) was the seat of a brief Pontic Empire as
the Ottoman Turks began to chip away at Byzantine territories in
Anatolia. Because of centuries of contact with various empires,
conquering armies, and trading caravans, the music and dance of the
region display a wide variety of influences blended into a unique
regional style. Pontian Greeks lived alongside and interacted with
Turks, Laz, Hemºin, and Armenians among others.
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s, and with the rise of the new Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal, the Orthodox Christian communities of this region were forcibly expelled. Some 350,000 Pontian Greeks are believed to have perished as a result, and hundreds of thousands more fled the region. Many arrived in Greece as part of the exchange of populations authorized by the treaty of Sevres (1923), and as such large numbers of Pontian refugees were settled in Makedonia and Thraki as well as in the area around Athens. Because of centuries spent far from mainland Greece, Pontian Greeks spoke a distinct, older dialect of Greek and maintained customs, music, and dances very distinct from the local Greeks they encountered. To this day, many refugee villages in northern Greece are mostly populated by the descendants of Pontian refugees from the same village/region in Pontos (i.e., those from Matsouka went to Kavala, from Kars to Kilkis, etc.). Despite decades of residing and intermarrying in todays Greece, many Pontians maintain their distinct culture and dances.
Pontian music is most famously represented by the three-stringed lyra or kemenche. The sounds produced on this instrument can be mellow and sweet, or vibrant and fast-paced in a way that adds to the excitement of the dancers. Although it may be played alone, it is often also accompanied by the daouli (large double-headed drum). In addition, other popular instruments include the zourna (wooden oboe), touloum (droneless bagpipe), oud (stringed lute), gaval (end blown flute), clarinet, defi (tambourine-like frame drum), and sometimes toumbeleki (hourglass drum). As a large ethnographic region, Pontos does not contain only one typical style of musical accompaniment (or set of dances, type of folk attire, etc.). Several smaller subregions are characterized by unique sets of dances, dance melodies, and instrumental accompaniment. In Western Pontos (Ak Dag Maden, Kioumous Maden), violin is often played instead of lyra and oud and defi are often also played. The larger kemane with additional strings is played in the coastal regions of Western Pontos, and is frequently accompanied by one or two ouds. Throughout Western Pontos, it is also common to hear the zourna and daouli. In the region of Nikopolis (Garasarin) in south central Pontos, lyra is frequently replaced by zourna and daouli. Use of the lyra is most common in Eastern Pontos (Trapezounta), and the gaval flute and touloum bagpipe are also popular. In Kars, the easternmost region of Pontos, touloum and lyra may also be replaced by clarinet- scholars have argued that clarinet was used in this region several centuries before it made its appearance in Ipiros and other parts of mainland Greece!
Likewise, dance sets and styles vary from region to region in Pontos. Generally speaking, Pontian dances are unique in Greece because of several common elements. Most dances emphasize small steps which cover less ground than many mainland Greek dances. The dancers feet tend to remain low to the ground, while a distinctive bounce (often a triple count) is created by extensive bending of the knees or bouncing on the balls and heels of the feet. This unique bounce creates the tremouliasma or shaking of the body commonly seen during the faster Pontian dances. Many faster dances also involve raising the arms above the head. Most Pontian dances are done completely in unison and without individual improvisation by the lead dancer (unlike most Greek dances from other regions). In most cases, women and men are mixed within dance circles at whim; usually, however, a man leads the dance line and another dances at the end of the line to prevent the women from being stolen according to the folk saying! At large gatherings, dancers will even prefer to dance in completely closed circles. Freestyle and couple dances are also usually mixed, although sometimes men and women will dance with members of the same gender.
Despite these commonalities, regional differences in dance sets and styling are important in Pontian dance. Western Pontian dances are often more loosely executed, and are characterized by a lighter style of movement. Steps are often larger and cover more ground than in eastern Pontos, and dancers are spaced farther from each other while dancing. In eastern Pontos (such as Trapezounta), dancers often dance so that their forearms completely touch those of the dancers next to them. In the eastern regions, the arms tend to be raised above the head more than in western Pontos, and the tremouliasma bouncing and deep knee bends are more prevalent and sharp. The dances and songs of eastern Pontos are better known than those of the western region, as more Greeks from this region successfully arrived in Greece during the 1920s than their counterparts farther inland. Additionally, many Pontians from the western districts were initially reluctant to discuss their music and dance traditions because many songs and dances were characterized by lyrics in Turkish (as opposed to the archaic Pontian Greek dialect). As such, the most popularly known dances (Kotsari, Seranitsa, Letsina, Serra, etc.) are typical of the Trapezounta and Kars regions from the east. The Serra (from the Trapezounta area) is perhaps the most famous dance of this eastern area. It is the only Pontian dance which is exclusively danced by men (in fact it is often said to be a war dance), and is performed by individuals from the same town or village who know the same set of variations. Serra is marked by fast-paced and sharp movements that are accentuated by the distinct tremoulo movement- vigorous shaking of the upper torso and shoulders done before executing each of the synchronized variations that make this dance so unique.
Common dances of Pontos include (by region):
AK DAG MADEN: Giouvaladoum, Tsiarahot, Karsilamas, Ters, Halaï, Tik Argo, Apopankaika
KIOUMOUS MADEN: Diplon Omal, Ters-Tsourtougouzous, Mandilia, Karsilamas
PAFRA/BAFRA and the WESTERN COAST: Osman Aga (Konstantin Savvas), Kara Pounar (Mavron Pegad), Tek Kaïten (Monon Horon), Taratsou Sokaklar (Stena Droma), Kizlar Kaïtesi(Koritsi Horon), Tirfon, Sari Kiz, Samson, Kotsihton, Tik Tromahton, Tik
NIKOPOLIS (GARASARIN): Tiki, Tamsara, Outsagoun/Outsa n, Kounihton, Omali, Titireme, Kotseki (Karsilamas), Kel Kits
TRAPEZOUNTA: Tik Diplon (So Gonato), Tik Monon (Matsoukas), Tik Laggefton, Tik Tromahton, Tik Toyialidikon (Moskof), Omal/Dipat, Lahana, Pipilomatena (Kori Kopela), Kots, Sarigous, Seranitsa, Tamsara, Militsa, Trigona, Aneforitsa, Titara, Miteritsa, Mouzenitkon, Dolme, Fona, Apopankaika, Kalon Korits, Gemoura, Gentiara, Etere, Hala-Hala, Thimigman, Kousera, Atsiapat, Serra, Pitsiak/Maheria, Kotseki/Karsilamas
KARS: Sarigous Mandili, Diplon Kots/Titara, Omal/Tiz, Elmatsouk/Armatsouk, Tash, Letsi-Letsina, Kotsari, Tria Ti Kotsari, Montzonos, Sarigous, Tournala, Touri
Dipat: Also called Dipatin, this dance means "Dio" two, "pato" steps. This dance is traditionally danced at a celebration such as a wedding and durived in Trapezountas, Pontos.
Etere: This dance was created with a song called "Pernixon me Etere" ( Pernixon me Etaire ).
Kots: A Pan-Pontian dance, that is primarilly danced by women. The dance consists of sharp steps and hops which include a lot of touching with the heal. That is where the name Kots came from, it means heal "Kotsi". It is danced differently in different regions of Pontos, and in some places it is danced only by men.
Kotsari: Pan-Pontian dance, danced in a circle by both men and women. The hands are up on the shoulders and the step is swift and sharp. Usually many variations are implemented and called out by the leader of the circle.