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Joan Friedberg

Tracing the past through the present in the Florina & Lake Prespa region.

Friedberg, Joan: "Tracing the past through the present in the Florina & Lake Prespa Region", 14th International Congress on Dance Research, Aridaia, Greece, 13-17/9, 2000.


Florina's traditional dances are known, remembered, and documented for the past 50 years, although much of the documentation available refers to dances exhibited by performing groups and does not provide a record of participatory dances as danced in the villages. When we try to trace them further back in time, the picture gets blurrier.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, large upheavals resulted in dramatic shifts in the people who inhabited the Florina region. Because of these massive population shifts, local research into the dance traditions of the region is unlikely to give us a complete picture. However, by looking at both neighboring and diaspora communities, we can begin to reconstruct a dance culture as it existed at a specific time and place. This dance culture today not only crosses nearby political borders but also transnational boundaries across the globe [1]. This analysis reveals two contrasting trends: the survival of one dance and the endangerment of another.

Tracing the past

Florina is a picturesque town in Northern Greece, only 17 kilometers from the border with the former Yugoslavia. During Ottoman times, the primary "silk" trade route ran through Monastir (Bitola), 33 kilometers to the north, thus bypassing Florina, which was not much larger than a village, known then by its Slavic name of Lerin. Mostly Slavs inhabited the surrounding villages, but there were also Turkish, Vlach and Albanian villages [2]. Old photographs show that there were three or more mosques with minarets in Florina, that were still standing in 1917. This region remained under the Tourokratia (Ottoman rule) until 1913, when the Treaty of Lausanne designated it part of the "new lands" of the modern Greek nation.

After the exchange of populations beginning in 1923, as new refugees from the Black Sea were settling in the Florina region, a building boom began in the town. Between the early 1920s and 1930, many two and three-story buildings in the Neoclassical and Art Deco styles were constructed in Florina. The mosques and their minarets came tumbling down, and the main Greek Orthodox cathedral in the center of Florina went up.

In the zeal of their new nation-building, the liberated Greek communities of the Florina region began the task of building new schools and embarking on new education programs, which included the "reconstruction" of its dances [3}. During the 1950s, the organization Aristotelis developed programs for teaching, promoting, and performing dance and music of the region [4]. We are indebted to a few local residents, whose devout interest in their regions' traditions has resulted in documentation of the dances of Florina, in particular Vasilios Papachristos and Pavlos Koufis, who have each published historical records. We are also indebted to Simos Constandinou, who has taught Florina dances, particularly those of his native village of Alona, on an international scale. Finally, lesser known is Vangeli Mitrou, who has documented on video many weddings and dance events for several years.

A new generation of Greek scholars is now active in this arena as well. Yiannis Manos is focusing his Ph.D. research study on the difference between the dances danced by local performing groups and the dances danced by villagers in the Florina area. An ethnomusicologist from Edessa, Theodora Gourani, has embarked on Ph.D. research into the brass band music of the Florina region [5].

When we try to go further back in time to understand the dance traditions here, the record thins out and finally leads to a vacuum, foretold when one passes deserted old buildings of former inhabitants of Florina and sees their weathered shutters open to dark and vacant living quarters cherished only in old memories.

Due to the radical shifts of populations in this region during the course of many turbulent years, the music and dances witnessed at today's weddings and panegyria in and around Florina do not necessarily reflect the dance traditions that existed in the past. In addition, although villages can be differentiated by majority ethnic populations, based on primary language spoken, these differentiations have now become blurred due to acculturation, emigration, settlement of refugees and intermarriage.


During the period of the Tourkokratia, a dance culture developed in the regions surrounding LakePrespa until, in 1913, it was divided by newly drawn national boundaries. Through video documentation from recent sources, in addition to a collection of audio recordings, we can trace the evidence of a specific and distinctive dance, the Berace, and reconstruct its distribution in geographical space and time, creating an isochor, for that dance.

The term isochor is adapted from a concept developed in the study of linguistics and provides a model that is useful for the study of dance distribution across ethnic, national, and even transnational boundaries. The concept, termed an isogloss, scientifically distinguishes finite boundaries of distribution of a particular language dialect through a survey of the word usage in a region [6].

We can theorize that an isochor for the dance Berace extends in a path we can follow from villages near the town of Ohrid, southward along the shores of the two lakes and onward to Florina and villages south of Florina. In this context, I define the dance Berace, with its various names (Bairatse, Berance, Gerondikos, Camce) as being danced in three or more measures to a slow 12/4 meter, increasing in tempo as the dance progresses. A somewhat parallel and more extensive isochor exists for the 2-measure Berace. This isochor refers only to the dance as a participatory village dance and does not include its many incarnations in presentational contexts.

Dance attrition: In search of the Berace

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, American ethnomusicologist Robert Leibman lived in Yugoslavia in the LakePrespa region while working on a Fulbright scholarship. He observed the 3-measure dance Berace and later taught this dance in the U.S. He also released an LP entitled Traditional Tosk (Southern Albanians) Songs and Dances from the Lake Prespa Area. According to Leibman, in the village of Pestani (on Lake Ohrid), they do a three-measure Berace that they call Camce, in which the leader may improvise by adding additional pairs of in-place crossing measures [7].

In 1993, in hopes of finding this dance on the Greek side of the frontier, I traveled to the village of Psarades, on LakePrespa's southern shore, where I found instead mostly Pontian and Vlach dances. This wasn't too surprising because many frontier villages in Greek Macedonia had been settled by ethnic Greek refugees after 1923 in order to provide a more secure border. I found no trace of a Berace in Psarades, for reasons that later became obvious. In the last days of the Civil War, in a final effort to push the Communists out of Northern Greece, the British Royal Air Force bombed Psarades, formerly called Nivitza, and other frontier villages, causing the inhabitants to flee [8]. The villagers were forced to leave material valuables behind, but they took their traditions with them.

Eyewitnesses from these villages are still bitter when they remember it. George Saracil, now living in Toronto, Canada and has a strong Slavic-Macedonian ethnic affiliation, is from the village of German (Ayios Germanos), a frontier village near LakePrespa. Another man, now living in California but originally from the village of Ljubojno, just north of the frontier, still dances the Berance on occasion, in a highly improvised style in which he adds extra, in-place crossing figures to the dance. Had the dance Berace disappeared altogether from Florina along with the former villagers from the LakePrespa area?

Also in the early 1970s, Simos Constandinou, a native of the Florina village of Alona and a former dancer with the group Tanec, came to the U.S. and taught various dances, including the Gerondikos. He has since taught this dance internationally and at dance camps, such as Mazoxi, in Crete. Youth dance performing groups in the diaspora, having seen videos of this dance, occasionally decide to add it to their repertoire, but they cannot find a good quality recording. One reason for this is quite simple: the music is not called Gerondikos. The music is Bairatse (Greek), Berace (Albanian) or Berance (Slavic).

The Hellenized name "Gerondikos" was not known in Florina until recent decades. Pavlos Koufis, of Florina, provides us with the old Slavic name "Starskoto Oro" (the old men's dance) with a photograph of the dance from 1954, where it is also captioned "O Xoros Ton Geronton" [9].

In addition to the change of the name of the dance in Florina, the dance itself seems to be dying from attrition. The reason for this may be an obvious one: the Dance of the Old Men does not appear because there are not many old men who dance it. Though the Gerondikos continues to be a part of the repertoire of performing groups, and is danced by Florina's own Aristotelis group, it has nearly disappeared as a participatory dance. After visiting Florina in 1993 and 1995 and attending two weddings and numerous panegyria, and after viewing half a dozen videos of panegyria shot by other visitors, I had never witnessed anyone dance the Gerondikos.

Then in August 1999, at a panegyri in the village of Kato Ydroussa (formerly Dolno Kotori), toward the end of the evening, at about 1:00 a.m., the band began to play Bairatse, and a middle-aged man got up and began to dance a very expressive, highly improvised Gerondikos. The music and dance began in a very slow 12/4 rhythm, gradually increasing in tempo toward a 12/8 by the end of the dance.

Finally, I could confirm that the 3-measure dance known as Berace (among ethnic Albanians) and Berance (in the Republic of Macedonia) is nearly identical to the Gerondikos of Florina. The primary difference between the two versions is that they begin at different points, on different musical measures.

Young people today seem to favor the popular Pousteno (Levendikos, Litos) that in essence has the same step-pattern as the Gerondikos but begins up-tempo and travels, while the Gerondikos is inclined to be danced almost in place, at least in the beginning of the dance. The Levendikos' lively tempo and grounded footwork leaves less opportunity for improvisation.

Diaspora communities: A living link to the past?

An entirely different type of historical inquiry can be made by viewing a single video of a meeting of Slavic-speaking decata begalci (or detsa begaltsi) that is child refugees from Florina, Edessa and Kukush (now Kilkis). Some of this community is descended from former inhabitants of Kukush who fled in 1913 during the Second Balkan War and never returned. Most were among as many as 30,000 children who were removed from Lerin (Florina) and other parts of Northwestern Greece by the Communists or fled between 1946 and 1949, during the Civil War [10]. This video, of a dinner-dance exhibition, with general dancing following, was produced by George Saracil's Horizon-Macedonian Videos in Toronto, Canada.

More than 60,000 citizens and refugees from Greece who were of non-Greek ethnic origin or who asserted a Macedonian ethnicity had their citizenship revoked under Articles 19 (since repealed) and 20 of the Greek Citizenship Code, and many were not permitted to re-enter the country. Because these child refugees never returned to their villages in Northern Greece, they represent distinct points in time (1946 to 1949) in which, from that point onward, their dance traditions developed independently from those in Florina and Northern Greece. In anthropological terms, we can compare these two communities to determine whether their independent development, in terms of dance culture, has diverged or has developed along parallel lines from that period to the present.

In viewing this video, it appears that both the dance repertoire and the dance movements are a close parallel to those I've witnessed in recent years (1993-1999) in several Florina villages. It is interesting to note that, as in Florina today, they sometimes dance the Greek Kalamatianos, instead of the Pravoto/Lesnoto or the Roma dance, Cocek, favored in the Republic of Macedonia, to popular Slavic-Macedonian songs in 7/8 [11]. Both the 4-measure Greek Kalamatianos of Florina and the 3-measure Pravoto in the Republic of Macedonia are locally known by the name Za Raka (hand-hold dance). At times the choice of dance may be determined by the tempo of the music; nevertheless, the frequent choice of Kalamatianos in this diaspora community may be significant. It leads us to conclude that Slavic-speaking Floriniotes and other Western Macedonian communities have long had a Greek dance consciousness while having a Slavic-Macedonian music consciousness.

This dichotomy exists in Florina today among those residents who still speak the Slavic-Macedonian language, of whom there are many. It should not be surprising to anyone to find Slavic-Macedonian songs in Florina, since songs require words, and people naturally respond to songs with lyrics in their native language. Evidence exists in similar situations of "music remaining an emblem of ethnicity when other domains cannot" [12]. What is surprising is to find the survival of the Panhellenic dance Kalamatianos among a refugee community in Canada, in which I suspect - though most individuals view themselves nationally as Greeks - they do not identify themselves as ethnically Greek. On this dinner-dance video, we can observe most of the community dancing the steps of the Kalamatianos to popular Slavic-Macedonian songs such as "Makedonsko Devojce," just as they do in Florina.

So what we have, apparently, is a transnational isochor, a somewhat distinct boundary in which a particular dance remains intact in diaspora communities even after half a century of separation from their homeland. Other dance observers have informed me that this isochor extends to their communities as well. For example, in the Detroit area, Slavic-speaking refugees who identify themselves as Macedonians from the Florina village of Buf (renamed Akritas) almost always dance the Kalamatianos to Slavic Macedonian tunes in 7/8.

As a point of contrast, we can look at another Slavic-Macedonian diaspora dance community of people who have emigrated primarily from Bitola, just north of the Greek frontier. At numerous dinner dances at St. Mary's Macedonian Orthodox Church in Whittier, California, I have observed that the Greek Kalamatianos is danced only on rare occasions when an outside band is hired, and then only once during the event, usually to the Turkish tune popular in Greece, "Nina Nai Nai."

The survival of the traditional Greek Kalamatianos dance in Slavic-Macedonian diaspora communities from Northern Greece raises the interesting question of just how long ago did these communities become culturally hellenized to the extent that they adopted what might be considered the Greek national dance?

During the Ottoman era, Slavic communities in the Florina region were governed by a more traditional lifestyle than that of today. The common social structure of the time was the zadruga, a large, extended, communal family that lived under one roof. Unlike the Greeks of today, they followed the old Julian Calendar, and their most important holiday was their slava, celebrated on their family's saint's day [13]. From old traveler's descriptions, we can imagine what those celebrations might have been like. For example, this "Turkish Slavonian" festival at a monastery in August, 1844 [14]:

A green glade that ran up to the foot of the hill was covered with the preparations for the approaching festivities. Wood was splitting, fires lighting, fifty or sixty sheep were spitted, pyramids of bread... In the evening we went out, and the countless fires, lighting up the lofty oaks, had a most pleasing effect. The sheep were by this time cut up and lying in fragments, around which the supper parties were seated cross-legged. Other peasants danced slowly, in a circle, to the drone of the somniferous Servian bagpipe.

In another account, a folklore history of the Florina village of Zelevo (Andartiko), by one of its native sons now living in Canada, the author describes life in the village before 1912:

On important holy days like Easter Sunday, St. Lazarus, Palm Sunday etc. the young people gathered together and danced the horo - a chain dance in the village square [15].

This account also mentions a bagpiper who played for wedding processions.

In 1870, the BulgarianExarchateChurch began to recruit followers in the Florina region, and by the 1880s the tug of war between the Bulgarian Exarchate and the Greek Patriarchate Churches, that would eventually precipitate the interminable Macedonian question and the Balkan Wars, had begun. Here is a later traveler's description from the Florina/Kastoria area in 1896 [16]:

In a dry river bed the village of Baskouri is shaded by a number of acorn trees. Horses and donkeys are on the threshing floors. The villagers rush to meet us and ask questions. They understand Greek with difficulty and speak only Slavic, but they declare themselves to be Greek and apologize for not being any more enlightened. They call for their kids who leave their classroom to interpret. The priest and the school teacher show up too, and their complains are the same as the ones at Dihem: the insecurity of the mountain... the Albanian brigands... the Exarchate priests.

We can theorize that the partial Hellenization of the dance repertoire occurred at least 50 years ago and, more likely, beginning in 1913 with the incorporation of the new lands into the Greek nation [17]. Karakasidou suggests that "an unconscious process of enculturation" of these Slavic communities into a Greek national identity began only after 1913 [18].


The dance Berace, accompanied by a particular musical meter, style and specific melodies, developed during the late Ottoman era in the region surrounding Lakes Ohrid and Prespa. It is variously interpreted by dancers as a 2-measure and as a 3-measure dance, sometimes improvised to include additional measures. The 3-measure Berace seems to be disappearing from the participatory repertoire in Florina by attrition and survives in Greece primarily as a performing group dance under its new name, Gerondikos. It can be considered an endangered dance.

The standard Greek Kalamatianos, known by the name Za Raka (hand-hold), still the most popular dance of Florina, continues to thrive even among diaspora communities with a separate ethnic identity. This implies that this dance is embedded in the collective consciousness of the region. We can't know for certain when it became a traditional dance in Florina. It could have entered the repertoire in some villages as a partial Hellenization of the region began to occur at the end of the 19th century. However, it is more likely its appearance can be associated with Greek hegemony that began in 1912, and that, by the time of the Civil War, this dance had become a part of the standard participatory repertoire.


1. Danforth, Loring M., The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World, PrincetonUniversity Press, Princeton, NJ, 1995.

2. Lithoxoou, Dimitri, in Koufis, Pavlos, Laografika Alona-Armensko Florinas, Athens, 1994, pg. 57-61

3. Manos, Ioannis, "Ekpaidevtiki anatasi tis perioxis Florinas meta tin apelevtherosi," Aristotelis, Florina, 217 / 1993.

4. Papachristou, Vasilis, Xorevtikes Drasthriotites Tou Nomou Florinas, Prespes, 1994.

5. Private communications with Ioannis Manos and Theodora Gourani.

6. This term was suggested to me by an American linguist, Andrew Carnie.

7. Private communication with Robert Leibman.

8. Pettifer, James, "The Last Village in Greece: 'Nivitza,' 'Psarades' and Miss Edith Durham: a note." Publication of the South Slav Research & Study Centre, Vol. 18, #1-2, 1997.

9.  Koufis, pg. 188

10. Karakasidou, Anastasia N., "Politicizing Culture: Negating Ethnic Identity in Greek Macedonia." Journal of Modern Greek Studies vol. 11, 1993, pg. 1-28. Also Koliopoulos, John S., "Identity and Numbers of Greece's Slav Macedonians." In Ourselves and Others: The Development of a Greek Macedonian Cultural Identity Since 1912, Berg, Oxford, New York, 1997, pg. 53.

11. Friedberg, Joan, "Cultural Change in Traditional Dances in Florina, Greece, A Pilot Study," 11th International Conference on Dance Research, Dance Around the Mediterranean, I.O.F.A./D.O.L.T., Athens, Greece, July 1997.

12. Nettl, Bruno, "Relating the present to the past: thoughts on the study of musical change and culture change in ethnomusicology," Music & Anthropology, No. 1. (Online journal).

13. Karakasidou, Anastasia N., "Women of the Family, Women of the Nation: National Enculturation among Slav-speakers in North-west Greece." In Ourselves and Others: The Development of a Greek Macedonian Cultural Identity Since 1912, Berg, Oxford, New York, 1997.

14. Clark, Edson L., Turkey, Peter Fenelon Collier, New York, 1878.

15. Tomev, Foto, Short History of Zhelevo Village, Macedonia, Zhelevo Brotherhood, Toronto, Canada, nd.

16. Bernard, Victor, Turkey and Hellenism: Trekking through Macedonia, Trohalia, Athens, 1987, pg. 364.

17. Petrides, Ted, "Greek Folk Dance and Change, " Folk Dance Research, I.O.F.A Proceedings, 1988. According to Petrides, the Kalamatianos "functioned as the focal point of cultural and national identification with free 'mother' Greece." He also asserts that school teaching programs introduced the dance into areas where it was not previously


18. Karakasidou, 1997.


Falirea, Grigori: Hrisodaktyloi: Paradosiaki Orchistra me Halkina Pnevsta Makedonias, Afsi Falirea 420, 1998. CD

Friedberg, Joan: Florina. Yesterday and today, Demotika Productions, Los Angeles, 1998. CD

Leibman, Robert Henry, Traditional Tosk Songs and Dances from the LakePrespa Area, Selo, n.d. LP.

Van der Zwan, Dick & Dimitropoulos, Vasilis: Western Macedonia, Choros, 1985. LP.

Vuylsteke, Herman C.: Yougoslavie 2, Radio France, Paris, 1981. LP


Joan Friedberg performed with Greek dance companies in Los Angeles from 1972 to 1978. She has been a musician (llautë, çifteli, laouto) and singer with the Drita Albanian Folk Ensemble since 1983 and with Los Angeles Greek bands Paradosi and Sto Horio. She traveled for three months in the Balkans and Turkey in 1982, observing dance events in the Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and in Greece. She has made five trips to Greece, the last three in 1993, 1995, and 1999, focusing on the Florina region. She has published several articles about Greek folklore and served as contributing editor of The International Greek Folklore Society's Laografia from May 1995 to February 1996.

Joan Friedberg


Map of the Berace Isochor

The line on the map represents an approximate isochor for the dance Berace, based upon either an eyewitness "sighting" of the dance in these villages, a witness of the dance in the diaspora being danced by an individual from one of these villages, or field recordings made in the village. The isochor is not a direct parallel to the exact meaning of an isogloss in linguistics, since we cannot know for certain that the Berace is not danced in other villages. It is also possible that the isochor continues in a circle connecting Kastoria villages with villages in Albania, extending around the lakes region, but there is no available research to establish the dance's occurrence in these areas.

There is also some overlap between the different varieties of the Berace. The 2-measure Berace is danced in Flambouro, Florina and in Krani. A women's 2-measure Berace is danced in Velesta, but was also danced in villages of Kostur (Kastoria), as evidenced by refugees from this region now living in Yugoslavia.

The 3-measure Berace is danced in Pestani, Resen and Ljubojno, as well as in villages of Florina. Though we have only sparse data, the map serves to illustrate the pattern of distribution for this dance.


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