Orpheus Hellenic Folklore Society Newsletter
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|Previous issues of Lyra
|OHFS Participates in First Dance and Choral Contest
|At Home at Your Father's Village
|Orpheus Presents Ethnic Folk Dance at Concordia University
|Spotlight on Orpheus Dancer
OHFS Participates in
First Dance and Choral Contest
By Amalia Deligiannis
Click here for more pictures...
Orpheus Hellenic Folklore Society donned their dancing shoes, suited up in
traditional Greek costumes and brought forth their best singing voices for a
different reason this past February: their first competition. Orpheus
competed against some of the best troupes on the West Coast at the 30th
annual Greek Orthodox Folk Dance Festival (FDF) in San Diego.
During the event, judges from the United States, Canada and Greece assessed the authenticity and quality of the dance performances, costumes worn and songs sung. Though FDF is presented in a competitive format, that is not its main purpose. It was created in 1976 to preserve Hellenic culture through dance, songs and music. Orpheus saw this competition as an opportunity to interact and exchange ideas with others that hold the same interests.
“Our participation at FDF allowed us to watch other groups, and meet and interact with dance directors, judges and other individuals who share the same level of enthusiasm about Greek folk dance and culture,” said Yannis Economou, president and principal instructor of Orpheus. “In addition, this type of exchange allowed us to talk about issues associated with a Greek folk dance organization, especially here in the United States.”
Traditionally, dance troupes and choirs from all over the West Coast, particularly the Metropolis of San Francisco, participate annually in this event. 2006 marks the first time a group from the Midwest competed. Orpheus was placed in the Advanced Senior Division of the competition. The groups are divided into separate categories based on age and ability. Overall more than 100 groups, constituting about 1600 dancers, participated in this year’s event. “It was a nice to see that there are over 2,000 other people besides the members of Orpheus that share the same obsessive passion and dedication for Greek dance, music and culture,” said Jim and Angie Thanopoulos.
During the competition, Orpheus performed a suite of dances from Western Thrace and a suite of dances from the island of Thassos. The Thracian presentation included material from the villages in the prefecture of Evros, with a concentration on material from the village of Asvestades in Western Thrace. The Thassos material was researched in Greece on the island of Thassos with help from local residents and artists, as well as sources in the United States. During the performance of the Thracian suite, the male dancers wore costumes from the village of Petrota and the female dancers wore costumes from the village of Metaxades. During the Thassos suite, men wore the traditional vraka, worn in most Aegean islands, and the women wore the traditional female costume from the island.
For the Division One dance competition, Orpheus received the Founders Special Achievement Award for the originality of their suite of dances from the island of Thassos. The Olympians of Assumption Church, Long Beach, CA won the
top sweepstakes award. “Although we are not a competitive group, it was nice to do something different and see some dance groups from around the country,” said Sophia Moraris.
Orpheus also participated in the choral competition. During that event, the group sung a hymn titled “Agni Parthene;” two folk songs, “Yanni Mou to Mantili Sou,” from Epiros and “Tzivaeri” from the Dodecanese Islands; and a popular song titled, “Tora Pou Pas Stin Xenitia.” Orpheus’ choral instructor, Eftihia Papageorgiou, arranged all songs specifically for this competition. Orpheus won first place in the Division One choral competition and Efthihia Papageorgiou received the Choral Director’s Award. The choral group from St. Demetrios Church in Tucson, AZ won the top sweepstakes award. For some members winning first prize was the highlight of the trip.
“Without a doubt the best part of FDF was winning first place for the vocal competition and having Eftihia win the director’s award,” said Christine Minakakis. “That was amazing because we all put a ton of hard work into the vocal performance and it showed.”
For others it was the experience itself. “We practiced, performed, bonded and had an overall GREAT time (at FDF),” said Georgia Makris. “The whole experience was memorable—everything from the three-hour delay at O’Hare, to missing the opening ceremonies appearance by 30 seconds because of it, to dancing until 3:30 A.M. and going straight to the airport to catch our plane back to Chicago.”
"Overall, Orpheus’s participation at FDF added another dimension of experience for the group, and exposed members to other troupes who are dedicated to representing our Greek heritage," said Marianna Gudmundsson, artistic director of Orpheus. “Dedication and a love and appreciation for dance, music and our heritage are keys to wonderful memories and success,” she said. “Each of us derives our own experiences in this type of endeavor, but it is up to the individual to
learn and apply these experiences in the future. We are fortunate to be able to be together and experience new things.”
For more pictures from FDF visit click here.
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When I returned to Greece 27 years after my first visit at eight years of
age, what amazed me most was not how small the village square was but how
large I had always remembered it. When I met my fellow Orpheus dancers, I
remembered the trip from Athens to the village of Kollines as much longer
than it turned out to be. The muraled ceiling of the church in the village
had held my childhood gaze like a night sky, but my 35 year old perspective
had somehow managed to lower the heavens. I went back with so many
expectations inflated by childish dreams that there could be no other result
than to come home seeing my world a little smaller.
The most important Greek word I knew was my last name. It was my passport to the discovery of who somebody was. Once I left the comfort of Athens, where everyone spoke English, I started off on the same journey that my father and so many Greeks in Orpheus had already begun, where you're in a new place and you have to start learning the language. Reading street signs and maps in Athens is a bit easier than in Tripoli and the village, where you lose the dual Greek-English signs, and sometimes you lose the signs altogether.
Then there's the fun of asking for directions. I would spend twenty minutes figuring out how to ask a yes or no question, but when I asked it, people would answer with their own questions. I'd repeat the question and finish it with na? Oxe?
One aspect of a culture you can't possibly remember bigger than it was is simple kindness. Greek hospitality, with the exception of a few cab and bus drivers, gently and powerfully solved fairly simple problems. I realized that my obstacles in life had suddenly become quite specific. What is the name of the street where the bus station is, and how far? I was getting a lot of "over there" and "you can't miss it" answers.
This trip was about learning how to get around. I was vacationing to learn what was where and whether I was entitled to go there. Sometimes the sheer simplicity of my ignorance built up the plainest joy of not taking the basics of life for granted. At home I could fall into a black hole of complexities over relationship issues, image self-consciousness, and invisible maladies my horoscope had warned me about, but on my way to the village the layers of inconvenience fell off with each meter of increasing altitude.
I'll never forget the sundown splashing through pines and the peaks of mountains that hot August evening. At about 900 meters above sea level the nitrous levels in my brain kicked off a fit of giggles, and I didn't want the moment ever to stop coming where I was just about to see Kollines again. Years of impossibility tumbled down the valley slopes as the son of Nikos Papadolias was coming back for the first time in 27 years. Okay, really everyone had come home for the Panaghieri, and no one but my father's uncle was expecting me, but the eve of that August 15 was, for me, perfect cause to dance all night.
Maps and street signs were suddenly made easy: Kollines has one road, which I affectionately dubbed Kollines Boulevard. Then I saw that somebody had removed that huge town square I remembered from 1978 and replaced it with a little square. The world was shrinking. Places so far away had suddenly come so near. And there was Theos Panayiotis, sitting at the cafe, waiting for me. He, too, had someone coming. If no one had known I was coming, I would have been a stranger in a strange land—the stuff good folk songs are made of. But you're never a stranger in your father's village. That's a new Greek proverb I made up.
The night of the celebration, I got my first glimpse of Greek fasting. I think they need to put the "e" back in "fasting." I lost count of the courses; I can only count so high in Greek. At midnight the priest got up to start the first of too many Kalamatianos, and I leapt to the dance circle for my first time testing almost a year of Orpheus. Throughout the church yard little swirls of dance circles eddied and dissolved into other swirls. I saw *Charybdis down a few ships as the man dancing next to me said something in Greek. I smiled and nodded, and he said something else. I said, "Then katalaveno." I think he asked my name, but if I gave anyone the wrong answers, it was only because they asked the wrong questions. When I said, "Pateras mou ine o Nikos Papadolias," he stopped in the middle of the dance and exclaimed, "Ime Papadolias!"
This name became my passport for the next two weeks as I journeyed down Kollines Boulevard, crossing paths with neighborhood parties and reunions. I was never allowed to cook for myself one day in Greece, for everyone booked me, asking, "Apopse?" I learned to say, "Avrio." At dinner my cousins and aunts would spoon thirds and fourths onto my plate. I tried to explain, "I'm going to be single for the rest of my life if you keep feeding me like this."
I met many hospitable friends and neighbors, but of all the folks I met, two were like a key that opened my eyes to a past I came 5,000 miles to see. I would have been disappointed if I hadn't found it. I wanted to find more, but you can lose yourself looking for who someone was and miss who he is today.
You must understand there is a spell over the neighborhood Pelahouri, for it was enchanted by Eros long ago. You can't live there without falling in love with your neighbor. My father's parents had been neighbors and married. So, too, had their parents, along with Dmitri and Dina, two of my dad's best friends.
I visited the old house burned down by the German army and found the stony heap of debris now consumed by the world's largest mulberry bush. I introduced myself to the neighbors who spoke to me in Greek, and soon an old woman grabbed me by the hand; someone explained, "She wants to introduce you to someone." This woman, Dina, cried when she met me and embraced me. She, my aunt, and my dad had shared a plate when the town was rebuilding. You don't cry because an army burned down everything you had. You cry because you survived. You cry because for the rest of your life, all the times you feel lonely, you go back in your heart to the intimacy of three kids sharing what food they had.
In spite of having made friends, there were times in my nine days in the village when I felt incredibly lonely. I'd fight off bouts of isolation by scrubbing my father's floors and rearranging the house, which gave off a quaint ambience and a welcoming spirit. The only room in which you were kind of not welcome was the kitchen, for I think the room itself held so many pleasant memories of my grandmother that the door would close on you affectionately, saying this is Vassiliki's kitchen. There was a picture from an old 1950's ad for noodles, featuring "Melissa Macaronia." Other than her, there were pictures of family members. These pictures that had spooked me as a kid now made sense to me. We were celebrating that we belonged to each other. No, our marriages were not always perfect, and neither were our sons, but there was the picture of me at thirteen that I'd sent to my grandmother, and on it was my very first Greek writing which I'd long forgotten about: "To Yaya." With love from me in Greek. I'd had my dad write it down so I could copy it.
My understanding of how people had felt about each other was changing. Every afternoon I'd make the most out of my lunch dates and then go on long hikes to walk off the pastichio and think about what I'd learned. Each hike, I journeyed to a different church on a different hill: Agios Kostadinos, Agios Dimitrios, Agios Ioannis, and finally, the last day, Agios Christophoros, the highest, 1100 meters above sea level. From these different watchtowers of the community, I'd look for our house. I realized I'd better put on some more clothes when I went out to the terrace in the morning.
My father's best friend had told me to take my camera for the five kilometer hike to the highest church. I know it may sound a little crazy not to take water, but in the vision quest tradition you expose yourself to the elements and endure your own weakness, hoping the spiritual world will take pity on you and teach you how to be a better man. I almost turned around, acknowledging that I didn't know where I was going and that the mosquitoes were getting meaner and the bees bigger, but just as I was about to lose faith, signs started appearing. The first was a hawk, who kept me going a little higher, and then I found a full pack of Greek Marlboro cigarettes. In the Native American tradition we offer tobacco when we pray, but this was the first time the prayer was giving the tobacco to me. Then I heard music, the sounds bouncing off the valley slopes. You couldn't tell where it was coming from, so I kept going, balancing a vision quest with common sense.
My father's best friend and I had had some interesting discussions I thought about while on this journey. The former ambassador for the United Nations just couldn't sit still in his retirement, so he served as my ambassador to Kollines. His English was superb, so he got to answer a lot of my questions. I'd been wondering about the white van that drove up and down Kollines Boulevard every morning, playing music and preaching on a loudspeaker. Was the van broadcasting an early morning radio soap opera, starring Melissa Macaronia? Were they spreading Communism. They turned out to be Gypsies selling shoes. He showed me an unfinished monstrosity of an institutional project, something like a hotel, with such hideous architecture that the village people hated it. This attempt to resuscitate a job market in Kollines would fit better among the clones of suburban American sprawl. Only a new farmer seemed to have any commercial interest in Kollines anymore. Everyone else was a retiree who sat at one of the two cafes in the evening. Had these cafes ever been the turfs of rival gangs, and was there ever a rumble on Kollines Boulevard?
My dad's friend swept me through a brief demographic of Kollines. The population had been around 3,000 in the 1940's but is now about 300. Everyone who lives there comes out to the square in the evening. There are the two old men's cafes, the young men and women's cafe, the junior high wall, and the church bell that rings every hour all night. I figured out that the ecumenical strategy was to keep ringing the bell until you stopped doing whatever you were doing wrong.
"Don't wait forever to start a family," my father's friend admonished me. "You're not going to be young forever, and when you're old, you'll find yourself alone and you're going to regret it. Your generation doesn't want to give up the autonomy."
I answered, "Fotini, Giannis, and Despina are all older than I am. They have to get married first. I don't want to embarrass them."
There were other villages in other valleys on the other sides of the same mountain. I reached the top and found where the music was coming from. It may have been a christening, a baptism, or just another Sunday, but I found water and one last chance to dance. I don't know whose event I stumbled upon, but all I had to say was hey, the UN ambassador told me to come here.
The walk downhill felt like I was going south, as downhill usually does, and it was easier to trod down the road carved out of the rock and put back together as houses. The bus carried me back up the hill early the next morning as I wondered when I would return. I hadn't left on the best note with my Theos, whom I affectionately refer to as Theos Theeskalos.
When I first arrived in Kollines, I brought him olive oil. "I don't need olive oil. I make my own olive oil." He pushed it back across the table. I brought him wine. "I don't need wine. I make my own wine." He pushed it back across the table. I brought him oregano. "I don't need oregano. I grow my own oregano," he said, and pushed it back across the table. So I took the bus to Tripoli and brought him back Puros, small cigars.
"You don't grow your own tobacco," I said, and pushed them across the table.
He pushed them back and said, "I'm quitting smoking."
I pushed them back and said, "Quit next week. This week, we smoke!"
So we smoked for a week. Since I don't drink and I didn't want to eat as much as they wanted me to eat, I needed a vice and I was 5,000 miles away from all my vices. We sat at the cafe and I met my father's contemporaries, including one who announced that my father used to walk to school barefoot. I had a hard time grasping why he'd proclaim this to the laughter of his fellow Greeks. Did he think there was something about my dad he could tell me that I did not already know?
On the plane I saw an illusion I'd never seen before. I looked down and saw stars. How often do you look out a window and see stars below you? I like this analogy for remembering that a lot of what we think we're seeing is not really what we're seeing. The church was never as high-domed as the mind of God, and the square hadn't really shrunk. In the house only a giant pine wardrobe seemed just as big as it ever had. It still stood in Yaya's room exactly where it had stood 27 years earlier, when I hid in the closet, playing hide and seek with my cousin. I don't think she understood the game, which is probably why I won.
I was glad to be back in Athens, where I made the last of my quests: I wanted to climb the Acropolis; to find Mars Hill, where the Apostle Paul first preached the gospel; and to see the Dora Stratou dance group again. My map said "Mars Hill" but the sign said "Areopagitou" at a huge red rock worn slick from the shoes of travelers. I kept wondering where in God's name was Mars Hill, and then later that night it slapped me: Aries and Mars were the same, one Greek and the other Roman. Where the Apostle Paul first preached, the huge cliff is littered with thousands of cigarette butts, but I doubt so many had offered tobacco to the spirit world on a vision quest.
I finished off my last night with one of the other great Greek spiritual healing forces in my life: dance. I'd seen the Dora Stratou Theater perform the world's wildest Tsamiko and some of the northern dances of Thraki. My last night they switched to a whole new set of dances from Kriti and Pontos, and their pentozalis even beat their Tsamiko.
I went out the night I came home from Greece and someone I had a crush on told me, "You look like you've been eating a lot." Efxaristo. I knew a few more important things now, like how my father walked to school in the morning, and about sharing a plate with your sister and your neighbor. That night brought its own great stars crossing, but I was not looking down at them. I had landed and was swinging around a lamp post, watching all these beautiful people my age journey into the night on their own adventures. I could close my eyes and still feel the Athens sky and see the stray dogs that knew how to use the crosswalk.
* Charybdis was once a nymph-daughter of Poseidon and Gaia who flooded lands for her father’s underwater kingdom until Zeus turned her into a monster and had her suck water in and out three times an day.
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Orpheus Presents Ethnic Folk Dance
at Concordia University
students from Professor Jean Harrison’s class on world music and
cultures had the opportunity to learn a little something about Greek
folk dancing and traditions last April. During the event, Orpheus
presented folk dances, music, songs, costumes and some history to the
students of Concordia University, a liberal arts college located in
River Forest, IL.
This is the tenth year Orpheus has participated in the class, which strives to teach students about different world music and cultures. The course, which is offered through the university’s music department, brings in various groups and individuals to present a specific ethnic culture. As a result, it’s become one of the troupe’s favorite annual venues.
According to Yannis Economou, the opportunity to do a presentation in a college setting is intriguing because it requires a different approach compared to some of the other group performances. For this event, the educational and entertainment portions are more balanced since more time is devoted to explaining the cultural and historical contexts of the Greek folk traditions. But it is also challenging to present the material in a way that will hold the students’ interest, since it’s an evening event. As a result, the performance portion is interactive which enables the students to maintain their focus in a relaxed environment.
Even though most of the students in the class have had limited exposure to Greek traditions, they still possessed an appreciation and exhibited an interest in the music and dances. The students appeared to enjoy not only the dancing but also the live music by members of the Orpheus Music Group, who demonstrated a variety of folk instruments. The evening ended with the entire class participating in an impromptu dance class. Students and members of Orpheus were dancing the Hasaposerviko in the “aisles” and kicking it up with a “sta tria” step variation.
After observing multiple ethnic groups, the students are required to write a paper on one of the cultures at the end of the course. This paper is supposed to stem from one of the presentations and further research conducted independently by the students.
|Spotlight on Orpheus Dancer...
As a full-time high school student, Christine Minakakis is currently involved in soccer, piano and voice but she still finds a way to make her mom drive her to practice every Thursday. Even though Mrs. Minakakis (i.e. MOM) had been scoping out the Orpheus dance troupe even before the youth group started, don’t think Christine doesn’t enjoy it. A few years after the youth group was formed, Christine joined and has been an involved member ever since.
Northern Chicago Suburbs
Mom is from Kerasia, Tripoli, Greece and my dad is from Kalivia Soxas, Sparti, Greece
|Time Dancing with Orpheus Group:
|Thoughts on Dancing:
|Most Vivid OHFS Memory:
Singing and dancing “Tsak Tsak” in the hotel pool at the Boca Raton Winter Dance conference, and making friends from across the country—thanks to the conferences
|Favorite Greek Dish:
|Favorite Place in Greece:
Music, soccer, piano, voice, sewing, hanging out with friends, shopping
|Best Childhood Memory:
I love going to my yiayia and pappou’s cottage and hanging out with my cousins.
I speak French better than I speak Greek
|Someone I'd like to meet:
|I'm currently looking for/forward to:
|I stay home to watch:
My iPod music is my life. I don’t know what I’d do without it.
|Where I heard about Orpheus Dance Troupe:
My mom saw them perform a really long time ago and asked about joining, but the group wasn’t for anyone under the age of 16. A few years later the youth group formed and we heard about it by word of mouth.
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12/30/2012 02:18 PM