Zagorisios/Valle Zagorishte (1*) – Zagori, Greece/Albania

*1st Generation dance. A dance that developed in a traditional way – not ‘taught’ by a teacher or choreographer, but ‘learned’ by observing and imitating others in your “village”, where the village’s few dances were the only dances anyone knew. It usually is ‘generic’ – the dance pattern is fairly simple and not tied to any particular piece of music. The dance phrase may or may not match any musical phrase, but the music’s rhythm must be suitable for performing the footwork. This dance may have many variations, but they’re performed at the whim or inspiration of the leader or (sometimes) any other dancer so long as it doesn’t interfere with the flow of neighboring dancers. For more, click here, here, and here.

ZAGORI, Geography of the Region

Zagori is a region spanning the Albanian/Greek border.

Zagoria, a cluster of 10 settlements in Albania, population 411 (2011).
Zagori is a cluster of 46 settlements in Greece

Due to this region’s extremely mountainous geography, communication and culture tended to flow more northwest-southeast (along the ridges and valleys), than from the sea or eastern mainland (over the mountains).

Gjirokaster, circled in the upper left, and Ioanna, circled in the lower right,
are the major cities servicing the Zagóri region.
Vikos Gorge from Belos. Source: Wikipedia

ZAGORI, History and Culture

The first evidence of human presence in the area is dated betwen 17,000 and 10,000 years ago. The first written records come from the Greeks, who tell of the Molossian residents of the area, descendents of the mythical Molossus. Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great, was a Molossian princess. Alexander’s empire evolved into the Roman Empire, which evolved into the Byzantine Empire after Christianity became the state religion. Quoting Wikipedia “The passage of the Slavs during the early Byzantine period is testified to by numerous placenames. The placename “Zagori” itself is probably derived from the Slavic Zagore meaning “beyond the mountains”. Control of the area passed between Greeks, Bulgarians, Serbians and Latins, while Albanian and Aromanian tribes moved in.

“Control” finally belonged to the Turks in 1430 when “Zagori (which then only consisted of 14 villages) «bowed the knee», which meant in practice that there were obligations between delegations of the two sides and a sum in tax was agreed upon in exchange for very considerable privileges: autonomy, administrative independence, and a ban on Turks crossing the borders into the area…This solution suited the conquerors and the conquered, as it added statutory rules to the geographical factors which had made Zagori a natural refuge.”

When the Turks were driven out of the area during the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Zagori was divided between the Greeks and Albanians, with many people of the ‘other’ ethnicity ending up on the ‘wrong’ side, including Vlach and Roma minorities split between both.

Zagorisios, the Greek dance

Yvonne Hunt, in Traditional Dance in Greek Culture (1996) writes “A rhythm commonly heard in Epiros but not so often in other regions is 5/4. It is most frequently associated with the Zagorisios, the most popular dance of the Zagóri region but now danced throughout Epiros in generral. The Zagorisios is danced basically the same from village to village with only minor variations. As with several other dances, i.e. sta tria, pogonisios, tsamikos, etc, there are many different songs for this same dance. Many dancers specify their preference when requesting it.

The most common song to accompany Zagorisios is Konstantas, (aka O Konstantakis)
Στίχοι:   Παραδοσιακό
Μουσική:   Παραδοσιακό

Περιοχή:   Ήπειρος
1.Αλέκος Κιτσάκης 
Άιντε ο Κωσταντής, παιδιά μ’ ο Κωσταντάς,
ο μικρο Κωνσταντίνος, Κωνσταντάκη μου,
ο μικρο Κωνσταντίνος, λεβεντάκη μου.

Άιντε τρεις χρόνους επερπάτησε,
να βρει καλή γυναίκα, Κωνσταντάκη μου,
να βρει καλή γυναίκα, λεβεντάκη μου.

Ωρέ να βρει ψηλή, μωρέ να βρει λιανή,
να βρει καγκελοφρύδα, Κωνσταντάκη μου,
να βρει της αρεσειάς του, λεβεντάκη μου.

Ψάχνει σ’ όλα τα Γιάννενα
και σ’ όλο το Ζαγόρι, Κωνσταντάκη μου,
και σ’ ολο το Πωγώνι, λεβεντάκη μου.

Μωρέ βρήκε ψηλή, αχ βρήκε λιανή,
βρήκε καγκελοφρύδα, Κωνσταντάκη μου,
βρήκε της αρεσειάς του, λεβεντάκη μου.

Άιντε τρεις χρόνους γράφουν τα προικιά,
και τρεις τα πανωπροίκια, Κωνσταντάκη μου,
και τρεις τα πανωπροίκια, λεβεντάκη μου.
A Google translation.  Please, someone improve on this!:  
Ayde Kostantis, children with Kostantas, the little Constantine, Konstantakis, little Konstantinos, my Levantine*.
Ayde three times he did, to find a good woman, Konstantaki, to find a good woman, my Levantine.
If he finds himself tall, he finds it bland, to find a gentleman, Konstantaki, to find his liking, my Levantine.
He's looking for everything in Iannina and throughout Zagori, Konstantaki, and all over Pogoni, my Levantine.
Moore found herself tall, ah found a small, found a gentleman, Konstantaki, he found his liking, my Levantine.
Ayde three years they write the dowry, and three of my patrons, Konstantakis, and three of my colleagues, my Levantine.
*Someone from the Levant - the eastern Mediterranean coast.
Surrey Folk Dancers, taught by Margarita Zantza. She becomes easier to see around 2:00 .

Ron Houston, in his 2007 Folk Dance Problem Solver, details the confusing history of this dance as it was presented in the USA. Early recordings in the USA (1960’s), were labeled as Sagorisios, or dances from Epirus, and were in 4/4 time, (the 5-beat dance was adjusted to fit this rhythm). Someone coined the term Zagoritikos (with a ‘k’) to denote the 5-beat dance, to avoid confusion with the 4-beat Zagorisios in use, when in fact Zagorisios is the proper Greek name for the 5-beat dance. Over time, it seems, most people, especially Greeks, agree that Zagorisios is a 5-beat dance.

Valle Zagorishte, the Albanian dance

Yves Moreau has been teaching a dance he calls Valle Zagorishte. I picked it up from Laura Shannon, who learned it from Yves. I can’t find any YouTubes of it being danced in Albania, either in village or performance settings. However the dance can be seen in the link below, and it’s very similar to the footwork of Greek Zagorisios, with an Albanian ‘lilt’. This stands to reason, as there is a significant Greek population in Albanian Zagoria. Gjirokaster is considered one of the centres of the Greek community in Albania, and a Greek consulate is there.

Click this link to see a performance of Valle Zagorishte:

Valle Zagorishte song – Teqeja e Zallit

This is the music Yves chose to accompany Valle Zagorishte. It tells of a visit to the tekke of Zallit (Teqeja e Zallit) in Gjirokaster. For more on the tekke, see the facebook site

*Bajo and Çerçis Topulli (1880-1915) were Albanian brothers who fought for independence against the Ottomans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Baba Hadzhi Bektash Veli (1209-1271) was the founder and leader of the Bektashi Sufi order. An Alevi mystic and philosopher, Baba Hadzhi taught new a understanding of Islam which was mystical, rational, progressive, and humanistic. Source: Laura Shannon, from dance notes to Valle Zagorishte.

Religion in Zagoria – the Bektashis

The Asim Baba tekke of Gjirokastër. In this tekke, which is combination of a cloister and a lodge, Bektashi sufis gathered. According to this site Tekke for Bektashis is never a substitute of a mosque. It is the center of Sufi’s life and activities; the place of Sufi’s initiation of new members, ritual activities, center of celebration of Ashura, and other communal functions. The Mosque is the center of religious instruction of Qur’an and Hadith, meanwhile tekke is for spiritual formation.”

Greater Zagori, especially the Albanian side, is a mix of Orthodox, athiest, Muslim, Catholic, ‘hybrid’, and ‘whatever’ religions, including the world headquarters (in Tirania, Albania) of the Bektashi Order of Sufi Islam. Wikipedia says “The Bektashi Order (Turkish: Bektaşi Tarîkatı), is a dervish order (tariqat) named after the 13th century AleviWali (saint) Haji Bektash Veli from Khorasan, but founded by Balim Sultan.[1] The order is mainly found throughout Anatolia and the Balkans, and was particularly strong in Albania, Bulgaria, and among Ottoman era Greek Muslims from the regions of Epirus, Crete and Macedonia…A large number of academics consider Bektashism to have fused a number of Shia and Sufi concepts, although the order contains rituals and doctrines that are distinct unto itself. Throughout its history Bektashis have always had wide appeal and influence among both the Ottoman intellectual elite as well as the peasantry.”

Bektashi baba (holy man), 1913

Quote from “The Bektashi sufi order, which was very influential in South Albania, preaches a remarkable teaching that combines shamanistic, jewish and christian customs with muslim traditions. The headdress of Bektashi babas, a position similar to Freemason Masters and religious abbots, has twelve folds. They represent the twelve imams of Shia Islam, but also refer to the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of Christianity. At 15% of the population, Bektashis are the third largest religious community of Albania, after the Sunni (more than 50%) and the Eastern Orthodox (20%) but ahead of the Roman Catholics (10%). This Sufi order was a unifiying factor between muslims and christians. Bektashis played a leading role in the fight for Albania’s independence.”


John Uhlemann wrote: “The Dance Yves Moreau taught is, of course, the basic “Zagorissios”. Not only is this song in slow 5, but the emphasized and doubled beats are identical. The Greeks do this to a variety of tunes, so why shouldn’t the Albanians? Of great interest to me is that Steve Kotansky taught a Zagorissios type dance from Southern Albania. It begins with the traveling step, but is structurally identical to the Greek version. Further, he learned it from villagers from Dhoksat, a mountain village not far from Gjirokaster. When I was there a few years ago, the guide said it was a Moslem village, but when I pointed out an obvious church platform, he admitted that, yes, the old Enver Hoxha regime had torn the church down. The house we visited there for lunch had icons and crosses all over the walls downstairs, and I subequently read when I came home that it was a Vlach Christian village. Sometimes looking at a legitimately collected dance really does hint at history.”

The Bektash are an amazing sect. There is a beautifully painted Tekke in Berat, and I found another more recently in Prizren in Kosova. In some areas the men and women pray together, and the “balcony” is not a womens gallery, but where the musicians are. It is still very active in many places in Albania, but is frowned on by Moslems in the newer mosques built with Saudi funds.

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