Thraki (Thrace):Thraki is the region in the far northeastern corner of present-day Greece, bordered to the north by Bulgaria, to the east by Turkey, and to the west by the region of Makedonia. Back to Map As an ethnographic region, Thrace is currently divided between Greece, Turkey, and Bulgaria, and as such these neighboring regions share musical and dance traditions in common to a great degree. Music and dance in this region are frequently very lively, often exhibiting a moderate to fast-paced tempo. Typical Thracian instruments include gaida (bagpipe), kaval (end blown flute), daouli (large drum), toumbeleki (small hand drum), defi (tambourine-like frame drum), the oud (large lute), clarinet, and the lyra (a three-stringed fiddle). Dances themselves frequently feature complicated, multi-part step patterns, and handholds are diverse and may even change during different segments of a given dance. Men and women often mingle during freestyle solo dances, but within dancing lines are usually separated with men at the front-end of the circle and women together at the end. While many instruments, steps, and dance traditions are shared in common across this region, certain differences within Thrace do exist and deserve specific attention.

Western ThraceThe region known as “Thraki” (Thrace) currently within Greece was only transferred from Ottoman Turkish control to Greece in 1923. With the turbulent events of the period, many local Muslim families emigrated across the newly established border into Turkey, and many Greeks left other portions of Thrace in Bulgaria and Turkey to resettle in this area. However, to date this region of Greece remains fairly diverse, with some communities of Muslims (many Turkish-speaking) as well as Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christian “Gagavuzides” in addition to Christian Greeks. The close contact between these various ethnic and religious groups is evident in elements of traditional attire, music, and dance that are shared by all local communities.

The music and dances of the district of Evros are perhaps the best known in this ethnographic region of Greece. Dances are mostly performed in long chains of dancers who variously hold hands, hold shoulders, or hold each other’s belts (or hands) in a “basket-weave” pattern depending on the dance in question. There are several dances performed only by women; whenever dances are accompanied only by a cappella singing, it is also usually the women in the line who provide the singing accompaniment as they dance. Men usually execute the more intricate improvisations such as jumps, squats, and striking their feet as they lead the dance lines, while women sometimes curl the line in and out of the circle as they bring up the rear. Koulouriastos, perhaps the most famous dance of the region, is named after the spiraling motions executed by the leader who draws the line into the circle- and then opens it back outward- in elaborate patterns. Traditional dances are often seen at village festivities and parties even today, and local villages often have performing dance groups for both young and old that display local dance traditions.

Dances of Western Thrace include: Zonaradikos, Koulouriastos, Tapeinos, Xisirtos, Drista, Dentritsi, Hasapia/Hasapikos, Baidouska, Giknas, Sirtos-Singathistos, Dahdili, Mantilatos, Sihtir Havasi

Anatoliki Romylia (Eastern Roumeli)The establishment of the Greek, Turkish, and Bulgarian national boundaries in 1923 left specific Greek communities in Thrace outside of the Greek state. These regions of Bulgaria (and sometimes Turkey) are referred to as Anatoliki Romylia (or “Voreio Thraki”- “northern Thrace”) in Greek, and many Greeks from these regions chose to (or were forced to) leave Bulgaria/Turkey in order to re-settle within the boundaries of the Greek state (mainly in the regions of Thraki and Makedonia). These incoming groups brought their own music and dance traditions with them into northern Greece. While many basic step patterns and rhythms are shared with those of Greek communities in Western Thrace, certain dances, instruments, and dance names are uniquely associated with the Romyliotes. For example, the use of accordion tends to be more prominent in Romyliote communities than in ensembles from Western Thrace. In addition, many of the dances of this area are characterized by more prominent swinging of the arms, shorter steps, and syncopated stomping of the feet than is typical of Western Thrace. Many dance names reflect a high degree of contact with Slavic and Turkish communities as well; Tsestos, a man’s dance unique to Romyliotes, stems from the Slavic word chesto meaning “frequently” (perhaps referring to the frequent improvisations often executed in unison by dancers who know the same variations).

Dances of Anatoliki Romylia include:Duzikos/Zonaradikos, Mantilatos/Singathistos, Sfarlis, Kallinitiskos, Singathistos/Karsilamas, Troiro(u), Koukitsa, Baidouska, Stis Treis, Zervos, Podaraki, Bogdano, Trimouliastos, Koutsos, Tsestos (or Karsi Tsestos, when done by two opposing lines of men)

Dance Information:

Paidouska: Before the liberation of northern Greece and southern Bulgaria from Turkish control, dances passed back and forth between Greeks and Bulgarians quite often. Baidouska spread from Bulgaria not only to Greek Macedonia and Thrace but as far north as Romania. In Bulgaria, "baidoushka" describes a class of dances, much like "pidikhto" or "syrto" in Greek; the rhythm is always in 5/16. Greek baidoushkas are often in 5/16 but sometimes in 6/8, 3/8, or 2/4. The ones which I've seen done all have a series of smaller steps in place or to the left, followed by hop-steps to the right. The meaning of the name of is uncertain, but is probably from the Bulgarian word for "limping."

Zonaradiko: The basic dance of Thrace, originally danced by old men but today also by youth and women. Like most Thracian dances, the men dance in front of the line and the women in back. The name comes from "zonari" ( simply "zoni" meaning belt) the standard handhold for the dance is hand-to-belt of the adjacent dancer (Thrace is known for its variety of handholds), although the standard crisscross handhold is sometimes used instead. There are dozens of Zonaradiko songs, usually in 6/8 rhythm but sometimes in 2/4 and 4/4. Many performing groups, following the Dora Stratou theatre, wind up the line at the end of the dance. The Stratou theatre either picked this up from an unusual village or invented it for choreography; in most areas of Thrace, this isn't done.

Koutso (Koutsos Horos): Thracian dance meaning "Limp". The dance starts slow and with a limping step, symbolizing the wounded soldiers of war, and as the music speeds up, the soldiers loose themselves in the dance and forget their wounds...taking leaping steps and kicking.