Lyra The Newsletter for friends and members of OHFS

Vol. 5, Issue No. 4, Fall 1999  

PDF version of newsletter

Previous issues of Lyra       

Orpheus Youth Group Builds Momentum Into 2000
An Afternoon At River Park
Letters To OHFS
Summer Dancing In Thassos
Orpheus Performs At The Antiochian Archdiocese Conference
My Unforgettable Experience In Crete
Orpheus Debuts In Central America
Performing With "Pyrsos":  Summer 1999
Chicago SummerDance 1999
Orpheus Welcomes Children From Nafplion
Orpheus To Perform At "Christmas Around The World"
Spotlight on Orpheus Dancer


Orpheus Youth Group Builds Momentum Into 2000
     The Orpheus Youth Dance Group's second season kicked off to a great start in September.  The response from the community has been very encouraging with an initial registration which is double that of last year's total enrollment! In addition to the Chicago branch, a second location has been made available in the suburb of Glenview. The Chicago branch meets every Thursday, 6:15-7:15 p.m., at River Park, 5100 N. Francisco. The Glenview branch meets every Saturday, 1:15-2:15 p.m., at New Church, Multipurpose Room, 74 Park Drive, one block   west of the intersection of Shermer/Glenview Roads. A total of 33 practice sessions have been scheduled for both branches from September 1999 until the end of May 2000. All children, 10-14 years old, are eligible to register. 
     The instructional material will consist of a comprehensive list of Greek folk dances from all regions covering a variety of styles. Youth members will learn the steps, history and regional significance of each dance. The Youth Group is scheduled to perform at the Museum of Science & Industry this December, the Skokie Festival of Cultures next May and will participate at the Annual Greek American Parade in March. For more information about the Youth Group regarding registration, schedule of  practices and directions to both sites, visit the OHFS web page at or directly call any of the instructors listed in this newsletter. 
     Today's youth is faced with an ever-increasing number of activities that include homework, sports, music lessons, and other extra curricular interests. Parents are faced with difficult choices as to which of these activities will serve their children best. The Orpheus Youth Group is a quality activity that is fun, artistic, and physically challenging. The group encourages social interaction and team work and promotes self-esteem.  Members can continue dancing for years to come by joining the adult Troupe. Above all, it offers its members a connection to our Hellenic culture that is rich in history and tradition. Each member will be able to exhibit our traditions proudly through performances and presentations. 
     A team of experienced individuals and veteran instructors will be heading this effort. The coordinator of the Orpheus Youth group is Bessie Kouchoukos-Grosso who brings many years of experience from her involvement in Greek American schools. Marianna Damianides-Gudmundsson, OHFS artistic director, will be responsible for overseeing and directing all instructional material and will be teaching at the Glenview branch.  Christina Pagones will be responsible for the instruction at the Chicago branch. Both instructors will be assisted by OHFS veteran members Alexander Kapotas, Kathy Tomaras, Niki and Christina Rigas, all of whom participate in the OHFS apprentice program. OHFS principal instructors, John and Kostas Economou will contribute as needed.  All of OHFS resources and experience will be made available to ensure that Youth members receive the best possible quality instruction. 


An Afternoon At River Park
   River Park of the Chicago Park District has been the Orpheus Dance Troupe's practice site for the last eight years. On several occasions the Troupe's presence at the park was not to practice, but to take part in local neighborhood events.  On Saturday, September 18, 1999 the auxiliary committee of River Park organized an outdoor event that included dance presentations from various ethnic dance groups. The committee is responsible for organizing community events at the park that are geared toward bringing its members closer together. The OHFS was represented by John and Kostas Economou, who conducted a Greek dance workshop with the participation of the audience.  Young and old joined a fairly sizable line and exhibited a lot of enthusiasm and respectable talent as they went through the steps of several Greek dances.  The  OHFS always looks forward to participating in functions that enhance cultural awareness in our community. A big thank you to all of the River  Park participants. 


Letters to OHFS

Dear Mr. Kapotas and Ms. Pagones,

     Greetings again! We wanted to take this opportunity to thank you both for contributing to the success of Chicago   SummerDance 1999. Your dance instructions were most certainly a big part to this year's successful program Dancers of all ages enjoyed the event and newcomers were all able to show off their new moves through your instruction.  On behalf of the Department of Cultural Affairs and the Chicago cultural Center, we would like to thank you for your support with Chicago SummerDance. Looking towards next summer, we will undoubtedly be contacting you for assistance in making our 4th year even more successful. Do not hesitate to contact us for any  questions or suggestions that might help us to improve Chicago SummerDance for the future. We look forward to working with you again.

With warm regards,
Michael Orlove and Michelle Collopy (SummerDance Coordinators)
Roberto Gutierrez (Site Manager)

Letters to OHFS 

Dear Yannis Economou,

     Let me thank you so very much for your excellent performance last Thursday evening at the Antiochian Convention. It was very evident that your group understood the directions given to you before the performance. From the back of the auditorium, I must tell you that it looked so smooth and well rehearsed.  The group has truly matured in presentation, form and refinement since I last saw them. I am very proud of you and will not hesitate to call on you again, OR recommend you to anyone else. Please extend our pleasure to all the dancers.

John, please know that you could call on us at any time, should ever the need arise. Thank you, again, and all the best.

Gordana Trbuhovich (Ethnic Folklore Spectacular Coordinator)
44th National Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocesan Convention


Summer Dancing in Thassos
by Kostas Economou

  This past summer, after spending five days in the breathtaking Swiss Alps, my wife Christina and I were on our way to Athens, Greece. With no time to spare, the next day we arranged to meet up with the Lyceum of Ellinidon of Athens assistant director Nancy Harmanta and Lyceum dance instructor Hara Deligianni. The purpose of this meeting was not only to get reacquainted with our friends from the Lyceum, but also to pick up the newest additions to the OHFS costume collection: a set of female costumes from the island of Thassos.

     During our visit with Nancy and Hara, Christina had the opportunity to try on one of the new costumes, which was astonishingly beautiful in its craftsmanship. Nancy and Hara were kind enough to show us how to wear the Thassos costume and also to provide us with some helpful hints on how to put together the various pieces of other costumes in our collection (like our Metaxades and Sarakatsana costumes). We are always extremely thankful for the opportunity to meet with Nancy and Hara, whose willingness to share their knowledge and expertise is an invaluable asset to the OHFS.

     That same night, Christina and I met up with former Orpheus members Harry Kisseoglou and Takis Karamoutsos who reside in Athens. Harry has taken the initiative to organize an alumni student association for graduates of the University of Illinois at Chicago, in which a lot of former Orpheus alumni participate. Takis was getting ready for his wedding and hoping (or "dreading") that he wouldn't have any problems remembering the steps of the Kalamatianos and Tsamikos!

    The next day we took the express train to Katerini on our way to meet with Christina's father. The train ride brought back memories of the train ride we had taken two years ago with a team of Orpheus members on our way to perform in Thessaloniki, the 1997 Cultural Capital of Europe. After spending a couple of days in Katerini and Giannitsa, we were on our way to the island of Thassos. Our visit was eagerly anticipated by a lot of our friends on the island who were anxious to continue the Greek dance lessons my brother Yianni had begun last year during his summer vacation on Thassos. For the next few days, our daily activities included not only enjoying the clear sea and weather, but also practicing a number of mainland and island dances with a dedicated group of summer vacationers of all ages and nationalities!

     The impromptu dance group had a chance to showcase their talents at the annual feast day celebration of the Panayia (Virgin Mary) and again a couple of days later, at the reception celebrating the baptism of my nephew, Kimon.

     Orpheus member Dr. Stavros Alexopoulos was visiting Thassos and he joined us in the celebration. It was a fun time enjoyed by all, and we hope to continue the Greek dance lessons next year! After spending a relaxing two weeks on the island of Thassos, we flew back to Athens. During the last few days of our trip, we attended a music concert dedicated to the career of Vassilis Tsitsanis (a well-known Greek composer) at the Herodion Theater in Athens. We also revisited the Dora Stratou Theater on the pine-covered Philopappou Hill opposite the Acropolis, where a series of Greek folk dances from the areas of Asia Minor, Salamina and Crete were showcased.  We had a great time - and hope to see everybody again next year!


Orpheus Performs At The Antiochian Archdiocese Conference

    On Thursday, July 22, the Orpheus Dance Troupe found themselves among Irish steppers, Arabian finger cymbals and Scottish quilts during a cultural extravaganza which took place during the National Antiochian Archdiocese Conference held at the Hyatt Hotel Chicago.

     The celebration was given in honor of His Beatitude Ignatius IV Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, who attended this year's conference.  Emceeing the event was none other than Jamie Farr, best known for his role as "Klinger" on the hit 1970's television show M*A*S*H. Following a colorful (and humorous) introduction, Orpheus began their dance suite with Baedouska from the Anatoliki Romelia region of Thrace, and finished with the Thracian Zonarathikos. The performance also included a number of dances from Epirus and Macedonia to round out the program.

     The members of Orpheus always enjoy performing with other ethnic troupes, and this evening's event was quite a treat! The evening began with a few inspiring numbers from the Scottish bagpipes, followed by Serbian, Polish, Romanian, Irish and Arabic dancers. Each group presented approximately 4-7 dances, and following the performance, Mr. Farr called each group back onstage for a final bow. The event concluded by bringing all the ethnic dancers together for a simple Serbian step to live music from the evening's musicians.

     The event was not only well attended but also very well received by the Antiochian community. Many thanks to Gordana Trbuhovich for organizing the Orpheus participation in this fun event!


My Unforgettable Experience in Crete
by Antonis Giannopoulos

Do you know the big island just south of the Peloponnese? The gem of the Mediterranean? The place of history, beauty and mystery? Do you know Crete? I didn't. That is, until I visited the island this past summer.

    I embarked on my journey on July 3. After I managed to endure the long flight to Athens, I arrived in Rethymno, where I met the other students who were taking part in this chance of a lifetime. You see, every year or so, the University of Crete selects teenagers of Greek descent from abroad to participate in a three week course at the campus in Rethymno, and I was chosen to attend this year.

     When our group had all gathered together, we traveled to Chania and then left for Rethymno, our final destination. The very next day classes began! The classes consisted of lessons as well as field trips. We studied Greek grammar, history and mythology. Lessons were slightly tedious, especially after long evening excursions!

     The field trips were magnificent. We visited a variety of archaeological sites, monasteries, and museums. One day we toured Knossos, the capital of the ancient Minoan civilization. Phaistos and the fort of Rethymno were also on our visit list. We visited the monasteries of Arcadi and Preveli. In Heraklion, we toured the archeological museum. This museum houses many timeless artifacts gathered from the various ruins of Crete.

     As well as educational trips, we took part in recreational activities as well! For instance, we took trips to various beaches. My personal favorite was Matala. Even though it was a haven for hippies back in its heyday, its beauty was amazing! We also attended a few dances at the University, which were great fun. We danced Syrto and Pentozali until we never seen before, and I was so excited to dance with them after their performance. 

     To add to the fun of the dances, we visited a few tavernas in the narrow streets of Old Rethymno. In one of these tavernas, I met one of the most amazing people I've ever known. The place was small, but it was a world of its own. Inside, all the way in the back, was a very small stage (about five feet by eight feet) where two musicians were playing. Next to the stage, on a stool, sat an old man. Lazarus, I was told, was eighty-five years old. Yet, when a song that he liked was played, he would get up and dance some of the most amazing Syrta I have ever seen! He danced with so much emotion that it seemed like he was twenty years old. From watching him, I was truly able to feel the passion of this dance.

     My experience on Crete was unforgettable. I saw a side of life that I never would have seen if I had not gone there. I learned of wonders that I never would have dreamt about if I didn't have the opportunity to visit this special island. I only hope that one day in the future I can return to Crete so that I may dance one more Syrto with my buddy Lazarus.


Orpheus Debuts In Central America
by Alexander J. Kapotas

  This summer I visited the Hogar Rafael Ayau orphanage located in Guatemala City. My visit was part of a 3-week short-term mission assignment through the Orthodox Christian Mission Center in St. Augustine, Florida.  You may be wondering what Greek folk dancing and an Orthodox Christian mission to a Central American country have in common, but if you read on you'll see how well these two seemingly unrelated things blended together.

     Before I begin, let me explain a little about the orphanage. The Hogar (the Spanish word for "home") is home to 150 Guatemalan orphans between the ages of birth to 11 years old. While the stories of how these children became orphans are both tragic and startling, when you see how these children thrive with the physical, educational and spiritual nourishment that is provided them, your attention quickly moves from their dismal pasts to their brilliant futures. 

     One day I was wearing my Orpheus T-shirt when Mother Ines (the Abbess of the monastery that oversees the orphanage) asked me to explain more about Orpheus. I began to tell her about our efforts in the Chicago area and when I mentioned our Youth Group, she asked if I would teach the children at the Hogar a few steps. I agreed, of course, and we arranged an afternoon practice session later that week!

     The nuns were thrilled with the idea of the children learning folk dancing, since it is another way for the children to develop their motor and coordination skills. It is believed that highly developed   coordination skills increase a child's capacity for learning, and the children are guided in daily exercises that develop rhythm and tempo recognition. The children were already receiving weekly lessons in the marimba, a Guatemalan folk dance, and Greek folk dance would be a welcome change in the routine.

     It came time for practice and the next thing I knew, I was counting the steps and explaining the meaning of the Greek dances in very basic Spanish! Despite my language barrier, the children were able to catch on in no time, and they loved it! I picked two simple dances that were both fun and easy to learn: Podaraki, which features a series of foot stomps and the island dance Issios. The next few days in school the children would tap on my arm to get my attention and ask me to tell them if they were doing the dances correctly. They picked them up really quickly, and I must say that I was quite impressed!

     Our lessons eventually became practice time in preparation for the missionaries' going away program as well as a present for the nuns. When their big moment came, the children all lined up and executed their dances flawlessly! Well, almost. When we were finished I turned to them, not knowing what to do next, and asked them if they wanted to do it again. "Otra vez, ninos?" "Si, Alejandro," they shouted!

     We repeated both dances about 5 times after that! Following their performance, our Cretan team member Steve Callas (affectionately known as Papou) lead us in a Tsamiko and a Cretan Syrto. When it came time for me to return home to Chicago, Mother Ines told me that she would like a copy of the music for the children to continue practicing the dances they had just learned. I agreed on the condition that we could be given marimba lessons in the States! When will Orpheus return to Central America? Hopefully very soon, since Guatemala is a beautiful country and the Hogar is a welcoming place full of love and affection for the well-being of its children.


Performing With "Pyrsos":  Summer 1999
by Harry Georgakopoulos

     I arrived in Greece in early June, and my cousin picked me up from the airport.We went straight to my aunt's house in Palaio Faliro. That night all my relatives showed up to greet me and, needless to say, we had one huge party that dragged on until the next morning! My cousins brought over their bouzoukia and guitars and we provided the musical entertainment for the evening. My other relatives brought food and drinks over and also participated in the dancing and festivities.

    I spent the next month in Filiatra Messinias, (the best town in Greece.) Apart from the usual going to the beach and relaxing, I joined my old dance troupe, Pyrsos. Luckily for me, they had 3 performances planned for the month of July, and I was able to make all of them! The first performance took place in Mouzaki, a very small but picturesque town high up in the mountains. That night we performed dances from Epirus. Another dance troupe from Pylos also performed some island dances that evening.  After the performance, the Mouzakians provided us with all the gourounopoula and krasi we could ask for. Of course the dancing didn't stop there! Our instructor always brought plenty of tapes with laika and "traditional" dances for occasions such as these, and we continued the dancing until 2:00 a.m.!

     The second performance was scheduled almost 2 weeks after the one at Mouzaki. This time we traveled a little bit farther to the town of Milioti, where we performed dances from Edessa. After the performance, we were treated to the same hospitality we had received in Mouzaki. The Miliotans had also hired a Greek band to play for that evening; I started talking with the bouzouki player (as I usually do) and he allowed me to play a few songs with the band. We had a really great time that evening! 

     The third and most difficult performance was scheduled for the last day of my stay in Filiatra. We performed dances from Thrace and Crete in the town of Gargalianous. This performance was very well organized. We had invited the musicians of Dora Stratou to play for us that evening, and they were absolutely great! Some of the best klarino, violin and laouto I've ever heard. We also invited Pirobolaki to come and play the Cretan lyra for us. (He is a very well known lyra player in Greece.) After the performance, we all went to a small cafeteria by the beach in Marathopoli. The musicians brought their instruments with them and the singing and dancing didn't end until the next morning.

     During my stay in Filiatra, I practiced with Pyrsos twice or sometimes three times a week. Each practice lasted 2 hours or even more! I was extremely lucky that my old friends (who are good dancers) showed me different variations and styles. Two of my friends, Babis and Stathis, have also been performing with the Dora Stratou dance troupe for quite a while.  After leaving Filiatra, I visited the islands of Spetses and Ios.  I did a lot of dancing there as well - not necessarily Greek dancing! Next time I visit Greece, I intend to visit Crete. I'm sure Antoni (Orpheus member) can tell us more about his endeavours there during this past summer!


Chicago SummerDance 1999
    For the second year, Orpheus was invited to teach Greek folk dance under the stars in Chicago's annual SummerDance festival. Presented by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, SummerDance ran from July 15 through September 26, and included a series of ethnic and cultural dance and music performances. Some of the highlights included jazz, Latin samba, blues, ballroom, West Indian funk/reggae and polka!

     Orpheus members Alexander Kapotas and Christina Pagones were again on hand as dance instructors, with the talented members of the Hellenic Five Orchestra and accomplished clarinetist Jim Stoynoff accompanying the dance instruction.

     Due to construction on the previous site, this year's festival was held on Michigan and Balbo in Grant Park, and an impressive group of students, downtown working people and folk dance aficionados braved the sunny but chilly weather to enjoy a fun evening of live Greek music and dancing.

     Christina and Alexander were happy to see many familiar faces from last year's event, and they had a great time reacquainting their enthusiastic audience with dances from the Greek mainland and islands.   Christina spent some time with a couple from Israel who didn't stop dancing until the evening was over! She commented, "They told me that they, too are from a Mediterranean country, and they were enjoying listening to the familiar sounds of our bouzouki and clarinet!"


Orpheus Welcomes Children From Nafplion

     Did you know that the village of Niles and the town of Nafplion, Greece are sister cities? The two cities became sister cities in 1993 under the Niles Sister City Program. Those who attended the annual July 4th parade in Niles may have noticed a float full of Greek American residents showcasing this relationship.

     This past August, the Orpheus Dance Troupe was invited to perform at an event welcoming six children from Nafplion who visited and stayed with local families in Niles as part of the exchange program of the village. The event took place at Arvey's Restaurant in Niles and was hosted by Mrs. Pat Arvanites. Present were local village officials including Mayor Nicholas Blaze, who is of Greek ancestry. The visitors from Greece were pleasantly surprised with the performance and showed their appreciation by clapping and whistling with enthusiasm! Later they joined the Orpheus members and demonstrated that they knew a step or two with regard to Greek dancing!

     During their stay, the guests from Greece had the chance to do plenty of sightseeing throughout the Chicagoland area and were also aggressive shoppers at area malls! Next year, children from Niles will visit Nafplion and will be hosted by local families. The members of the Orpheus Dance Troupe were glad to participate in such a pleasant affair and wish that the sister city relationship between Niles and Nafplion grows even stronger in the years to come.


Orpheus Dance Troupe and Youth Group To Perform At Christmas Around The World

     The Orpheus Dance Troupe will be participating again this year in the Winter Festival, Christmas Around the World, held at the Museum of Science & Industry. The festival includes holiday presentations from ethnic groups representing over 40 countries and highlights the customs and rituals of each country's holiday/wintertime celebrations.

     The OHFS performance will take place on Saturday,December 18 at 4:00 p.m. at the International Cafe Theater. Following the tradition of the last few years, the OHFS performance will be combined with the presentation of the Peraikon Hellenic School, which includes Christmas songs, carols and other Greek seasonal material. The Peraikon School has been participating in the festival for over 30 years. Parents and teachers from the school have been responsible for decorating the Greek Christmas tree. In addition, for the first time in this festival, the Orpheus Youth Group is scheduled to perform a suite of dances, followed by a program presented by the adult troupe.

     Everyone is welcome to enjoy the festivities and holiday cheer! Please remember to allow ample time for parking upon arrival at the Museum. For more information about the Winter Festival, please call 847-729-3406. We hope to see you there to celebrate the holidays!


Spotlight On Orpheus Dancer...
Melpo Katsaros

Mount Prospect, Illinois
Parents/Family From:
Father:  Agio Dimitri (a village close to Nafplio)
Mother:   Iria (a village close to Nafplio)
Student at University of Illinois/Chicago
Years Dancing with OHFS:
Since 1997
Thoughts on Dancing:
Dancing is like a Calgon bubble bath:  "It takes me away..."   Plus, it's also a great workout.
Favorite Dance:
Island dances
Most Vivid OHFS Memory:
I loved dancing to the live music of the Flambouro musicians, who came to Chicago in 1998 for a Greek folk dance workshop held at the University of Chicago.  I could close my eyes and imagine I was dancing in the village.
Favorite Greek Dish:
Anything my mom makes, especially her macaronada (Greek macaroni cooked with lots of butter)!
Favorite Place in Greece:
The mountains.
Where I heard about Orpheus Dance Troupe:
Through Greek school and (Orpheus member) Marianna Gudmundsson.

Welcome aboard new Orpheus members Maria Kakleas, Xenia Vaitsi, Voula Moragiannis, Elizabeth Rossmiller, Barbara Siagaros. Congratulations also go to new members Nick and Line Skoufos, who joined Orpheus this summer before leaving for Greece to get married. Na zisete!

Orpheus welcomes the arrival of Alexandros Economou, born to John and Elizabeth Economou on September 19, 1999 at 2:14 a.m. at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston.
Na sas zisi!

Congratulations to Andy and Mary Pagones on the baptism of their daughter, Kyriaki, on August 28. Godparents were Anthony and Maria Kroll of Algonquin. 

Birthday wishes to Patty Pappas on October 4th, Bessie Kouchoukos-Grosso on October 5,   Sophia Prassas on October 9, Marianna Damianides-Gudmundsson on October 11, Niko Paras on October 21st, Marianna Kaltsa on November 24th, and Yianni & Kosta Economou on December 30th.

Namesday greetings to Katerina Tomaras, Katerina Grosso, and Katerina Economou on November 25th, Niki Rigas and Niko Paras on December 6th, and Christina Economou, Christina Pagones, Christina Rigas and Christina Kakavas on December 25th.  Belated namesday greetings to Sophia Prassas (September 17th) who just returned from a year-long stay in Australia. Welcome back from down under!  Sophia will be returning to Australia to ring in the new millennium on New Year's Eve. Kalo taxidi!

Linda Damianides has returned after a year long stay in Texas and has accepted a position teaching math to gifted students in Niles and Park Ridge. Congratulations Linda, and welcome back!