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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