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The Philly Greek-Stake Blog

My Big Fat Greek Dance

My Big Fat Greek Dance

Illustration courtesy of Dimitra Tzanos

So you want to dress up and go to a Greek dance in the Philly area? Good luck finding one! Most have gone by the wayside and have simply died, replaced by the dreaded… Greek Night.

I don’t want to sound like those old “foggies” that use to say, “back in my day,” but here I go… “back in my day” we had Greek dances… BIG Greek dances. Oh yeah, men wore suits and ties and women wore dresses and high heels and they were held at the large hotel ballrooms too. These dances attracted the entire family and were where the young people went to meet a nifi or gambro, or at least to see what was available. It was a place to see and been seen.

Back in my day there was the Sheraton Hotel at J.F.Kennedy Blvd., in Philadelphia, where some of those BIG dances were held. Annunciation Church of Elkins Park held one of the biggest celebrating its name day and Greek Independence Day. Over 1,000 to 2,000 people filled the grand ballroom with its winding staircase and where 2 or 3 bands played. I’m sure everyone remembers the giant Greek flag that covered the entire back wall of the stage! The AHEPA Hercules-Spartan Chapter #26 of Philadelphia and Pan Macedonian Society also held their dances there and again, thousands of people showed up.

St. Lukes Church in Broomall sponsored a yearly Charity Ball. In 1975 the dance featured open bar, hors d’oeuvres, full course prime rib dinner, raffle drawing with prizes of $5,000, cruise, and watches, guest stars Mort Crim and Jessica Savitch from Channel 3 News. The George Giordas Orchestra and Orpheus performed, and a magician too… all for $50.00 per person. Wow! Try holding that dance in 2012!

Over on the Jersey side, the Andros Society held one of the biggest dances at the Ivy Stone Inn in Pennsauken. Again, at least 2 bands played, there were thousands of people, and the dance was well known for the food they served.

In the early 70’s, the Sons of Pericles (which I was a proud member) and Maids of Athena Chapters in Cherry Hill held a dance at the Ivy Stone Inn and we were the first organization to bring the famous Trio Bel Canto to this area. Our AHEPA fathers thought we were nuts and would not make enough money to pay even the band. They were wrong. We packed the place.

There were many other dances held by the different churches and societies. Eventually, the dances became too costly to be held at the hotels and they began being held at the church halls but they continued to attract large numbers of people even through the 90’s. The Greek dances then began to decline but the tavernas at the church Greek festivals increased in popularity. Through the 80’s and 90’s, St. Lukes, St. Thomas, and St. Demetrios had the most impressive tavernas. Many will remember the scores of famous Greek singers that appeared at St. Demetrios’ festival – Parios, Dionysiou, Kokotas, Antypas, Kontolazos, Stanisis, and many more. The Greek dances moved from being elegant affairs held at hotels to more festival or bouzoukia atmosphere at the church halls. Unfortunately, even that couldn’t withstand the last nail in the coffin of the Greek dances – the Greek nights!

All good things come to an end including the Greek dances. Little Stavros and Maria (who use to go to the Greek dances when they were children) were now grown up and didn’t want to go to the church dance with mommy and daddy anymore. They started going to the many Greek nights held in the “American” nightclubs around Philly. Gone were the live full Greek bands which were replaced by DJs. Like the song, “Video Killed the Radio Star,” Greek Night killed the Greek dances.

But there is a sliver of hope. This past November, the Pontians had over 600 people at their dance. St. Demetrios had about 800 at their New Year’s Eve Dance, and even St. Thomas’ Greek School had over 600 people in January. Did the Greek Night kill the Greek dance, or… it was just taking a break? Only time will tell. Opa!

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  1. Evan Karapanagiotides

    I couldn’t agree more Harry…. The dances are great ways to have fun, instead of going to a club where you have to pass by a bouncer, pay $30 to get into a club, hear horrible DJ’s, spend $15 for each drink and leave having a horrible time. I am glad that there has been glimpse of hope recently and I hope that it continues.

    • DJ MAKIS

      There’s a few ways to get a point a cross and express your opinion, but it’s hard for me to sit by and read your comment and not respond. What horrible DJs are you referring to? I’ve been in business for over 10 years, I don’t even need to advertise anymore because people love my music and refer me to their friends and family. Fact is, I’m being flown to Chicago, ALL EXPENSES PAID to DJ. You want to talk about paying an entrance fee and having a good time? Explain to me why in the past all those “FREE TO GET IN” parties at other venues failed, while the parties I co-hosted with cover charge were packed? I mean speak for yourself but not for others, I don’t think the 400+ people had any issue paying cover on Labor day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas, as opposed to going to some “GET IN FOR FREE” sh*t hole venue where you might get hepatitis from the furniture. You’re out of line Evan, and I’ve known your for a long time now, I didn’t expect this from you. I’m tired of all the mudslinging go around lately, and for the record, we’ve never charged more than $20, which by the way is what you would pay on any night to get into exclusive lounges such as Whisper and G-lounge. And ps. while everyone else has only ever looked at making a profit, we at least give back to the community, I’ve DJed for free for countless events such as a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis, and not to mention how we’ve recently started a collaboration to donate to the College Greek Clubs for every hellenic student that shows up with their college ID.

      • DJ MAKIS


  2. Philip Voutsakis

    Great article Judge K. You’re in luck though; as part of our convention over Memorial Day Weekend, the Pan-Macedonians are having a black-tie gala in the Grand Ballroom of the Sheraton in Society Hill on May 27th. Hope to see you there!

  3. Timmy Valavanis

    Hi Harry,
    I grew up in Upper Darby.
    I don’t know if you remember but back in 1984 you had helped me with a business contract I had signed with a company in SF after you corrected a few points. I’ve been living in Greece since 1982, and even though I have been living in Greece for the last 30 years, I will always remember and cherish the great Greek dances, the beautiful people, the music and all my friends having a great time.
    After 30 years in Thessaloniki my heart, my friends and all my childhood memories will always be back home at Upper Darby at Beverly Hills JH, UDSH, Lyons Tech School, and our great beautiful BIG GREEK DANCES, and no you don’t sound like those old foggies. Your article took me back to my childhood years for a few moments and I thank you for that.
    Wishing you the best in your career και σε ανωτερα.

  4. John Anastasiadis

    Great post. I believe it’s due to cultural assimilation. Lots of Greek-American are forgetting their heritage and language. I think that each Greek dance should have an hour or half-hour Greek dancing lesson that takes place before the event.

  5. Alex Terris

    Great article and took me back. The dance at the Sheraton on JFK Blvd was something we all looked forward to. Anyone remember when that dance moved to the Bourse Building? Keep up the good work

  6. Agnoula Marcantonis

    Omgoodness, thank you for reminding me about those March 25th dances. I was a GOYAn back then at Annunciation Elkins Park and it was a HUGE event with so many different people attending.

    I like going to the occasional Greek night, but I can’t take my kids there. While at the same time, I like going to the occasional dance to take the kids with me, but every church does their own thing in their own hall without much cross over.

    That is wherein the problem lies. We need to come together as a whole Greek community and do things together not apart. And everyone in the 25-35 age range needs to realize that we are the immediate future of the Greek community and step up. Volunteer as a Greek school teacher, dance teacher, board member at your church, or just bring your kids out to meet other kids. They are the future and we should try to give them the same upbringing we had, in the church and with the community as Harry said.

    So I don’t think the Greek Night killed the Greek Dance, I think my generation is to blame. Let’s stop talking about it and have a huge March 25th dance. I’ll be the first on the committee!!

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