It was a strong showing for the two Philadelphia-area churches participating in the Metropolis’ 28 annual Hellenic Folk Dance Festival (FDF) in Annapolis Maryland from January 17-19, 2020. St. Luke’s GOYA Olympian’s group took second place in the field of 10 competitors in the Senior division. St. George’s Zephyros Senior (GOYA) and the Zephyros Junior (JOY & HOPE) groups both took first place in their respective divisions. This marks the third year in a row that both groups have won the gold medal; an unbroken chain since coming back to the competition in 2018.

Zephyros Juniors is instructed by Anthoula Psihalinos, who is also a mother of three dancers, George, Dionisi, and Athena. Zephyros Seniors is instructed by Philip Voutsakis, who was an early participant in the Zephyros group while still in GOYA. The Olympians are instructed by both Christos Yiantsos, who has been following in the footsteps of his sister Agnoula who lead the group for many years, and Evan Palmieri, a former dancer in the group. Both Voutsakis and Yiantsos are current dancers with the Pan-Macedonian, Spirit of Macedonia dance group which is instructed by Christos Tsekaris.

The competition included 17 different dance groups and spanned a weekend. It included two performances and a Saturday night glendi. The performances were judged by a panel of three judges. The grading was based on the ethnic quality of dances, stage presence, precision, costume and director proficiency/level of difficulty.

On Saturday, the junior Zephyros group performed a set of dances from Limnos including Kehagias, Mpallos, Ta Ts’mantriana Koritsia, and Patima. These were performed in their newly purchased Lymnos costumes. Their Sunday performance was a depiction of dances for Epirus, which ended with an emotional portrayal of the Dance of Zalongo, sung a cappella by the dancers. This dance depicts when 60 women from Souli, Epirus decided to dance off a cliff’s edge with their infants and children rather than surrender to the advancing Ottoman troops. The performance garnered a rare standing ovation from the audience.

The Zephyros Senior group performed a group of dances from Koimisi Serres in their newly purchased costumes from that village. This set included Arap Havasi, Mangoustar Havasi, Nastritzini, Hatzimpelik, Selianik & Karsilama. The 2nd-day performance depicted two traditions from the village of Meliki in Roumlouki; the girls of the group sang and performed the tradition of the Lazarines which is performed by the unmarried girls of the village on the Saturday of Lazarus, in which they go door to door singing carols honoring the Saint. The boys performed the tradition of the Rougkatsia, which is done during the 12-day period between Christmas and Epiphany, in which a band of young men would travel from village to village with accompanying and perform a series of consecutive dances.

The Olympian Dance Group performed dances from the Thrace region on the first day of the competition. These dances included: Ksesyrtos, Syrtos Syngathistos, Zervos, Tsestos, and Zonaradikos.

Many Macedonian region/style dances overlap with the Thrace region; however, the style in the step and costumes allow the two regions to differentiate themselves from one another. On the second day, the Olympians performed a Macedonian set of dances from many different villages but focusing on the village of Naoussa. The set of dances included: Virginada, Dimitroula, Ormophoula, Stankena, and Makrinitsa. Virginada is a local name for the dance Zagorisio from the village of Virgina.

Makrinitsa has a similar history as the Dance of Zalongo that the kids of Zephyros Junior performed. Makrinitsa, which was the last dance of the final performance, is a dance of sacrifice and pride. During the Ottoman and Turkish occupation, people (children and men) were being made to join the Turkish military. The people would refuse and be killed. As a notion for resisting to join the Turkish military, women danced in a village called Makrinitsa in Mount Pelion near Volos. The women would sacrifice themselves and their children by dancing and singing off a cliff into the Arapitsa river. The Dafni plant used during the performance was used to represent those who sacrificed their lives. This dance was sung a cappella by the ladies.

The Olympians won Best Costume for the first time since FDF 2016 and placed in overall standings within the Senior division for the first time since 2016 as well. The 2 nd place finish is the highest finish St. Luke’s has achieved at FDF.In addition to the competitive element and clear love for traditional Greek culture, there was a strong depiction of fellowship among the many participants. Particularly evident was the bond between the St. Luke and St. George dancers and parents. Both groups made an effort to support each other during their performances. Many group photos were taken with dancers from both churches, and of course, chats of chants of “Philly, Philly….” and “DelCo, DelCo… “ were heard throughout the auditorium as the winning parishes expressed their excitement with each other.