Walking onto the grounds of Montrose’s Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral the first weekend in October is a bit like wandering into a Greek street fair. The Original Greek Festival, marking its 51st year, is a family-friendly celebration of all things Greek: food, music, wine, shopping, culture.
For months prior to the festival, volunteers are engaged in menu planning, site logistics and scheduling, ordering Greek wine and the myriad details of entertaining thousands of people in a small space across a short window of time. It’s a ton of work, requiring a ton of time and dedication—just ask the Greek dancers.
Each evening during the festival, between 60 and 70 dancers take to the stage, clad in brilliant costumes, performing traditional folk dances from regions across Greece. The 30-40-minute performances incorporate dances from the islands, both the mainland and popular forms. By the time they step on the festival stage, they’ve practiced 60-odd hours—and most of them have been dancing for decades.
“It’s a rite of passage to go from the afternoon children’s performance to the evening performances,” says Sophia Sgarbi Psillas, who oversees the festival’s dance program.
Many of the dancers begin performing as children. The children’s performances take place in the afternoon and the performers are usually in the second through 10th grades. When they’re in high school, they transfer from dancing in the children’s shows to the adult shows; the age cap for adults is 35.
“There’s a real sense of community to our dancers,” Psillas says. “Our high school students stay with us till they graduate, then they go away to college and many of them come back to perform afterward.”
One of those is Chris Katerinakis, a 30-year-old biodiesel operator who’s been dancing since he was 7, and now assists in teaching his fellow dancers.
“My dad immigrated here from Greece in the 1970s,” he said. “And I remember being a kid, dancing was always around. It’s something that’s so essential to Greek life. You dance at baptisms, at weddings. It connects you to your heritage.”
Katerinakis performs in most of the evening performances, each of which has multiple dance numbers from both the Greek mainland and the islands. The often intricate numbers showcase precision timing, foot and handwork, as well as exquisite costumes. Putting on the performances is a massive undertaking, says Psillas.
“We follow the tradition of Georgia Voinis, whose vision was to have a professional looking program for our festival-goers,” she says. “Our dance program is what it is because of her.”
Dancers perform in the gym on the Cathedral and Annunciation Orthodox School grounds; in the lobby is a painting of Voinis called Spirit of the Dance, commissioned after her death and honoring her legacy.
“I hope they see how we care for each other, and how vibrant our community is,” says Psillas. “This is really a way to share in culture and friendship.”
The Original Greek Festival, Oct. 5–8. Tickets from $5. Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 3511 Yoakum Blvd. 713-526-5377. Tickets and information at greekfestival.org.