Upper Darby, PA – “Pontos Lives in Philadelphia”, said Ifigeneia Pavlidou-ikonomou (President of the Akritai Pontian Society of Philadelphia) with a big smile on her face. And with those words, the 76th annual dance of America’s oldest Pontian organization, the “Akritai”, commenced. Standing on the dance floor, just in front of the stage, Pavlidou-Economou, Effie as she’s known to the community, introduced the musicians from Greece and thanked all those responsible for helping to put together this annual event that is arguable the largest attended Pontian dance in North America as well.

Several members of the community addressed the crowd of 600 that filled the church hall of St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox church. Federation of Hellenic American Societies of Philadelphia, Stathi Karandonis, and Pan Pontian President of USA and Canada, Gus Tsilfidis each shared a moment complementing and recognizing the Akritai’s contribution to the preservation of Pontian culture in the Delaware Valley.

Pavlidou-Ikonomou also recognized the many in attendance with ties to and from the village of Koromilia, just outside of Kilkis in Greece. Event Sponsor Pat’s Pizza (restaurant/chain) has ties to the region where many are originally from, that attended the event. They sponsored singers Giannis Gavriilidis and Stathis Pavlidis, from Greece. Gavrilidis is also from the area.

Following the musical warm up by Stoxos Entertainment, original dances from Pontos were performed by the “Akritai” dance troupe. The 30 minute performance featured beginners from the ages of 4 and 5 years old, to those established adults. Family members and friends gazed at the performance by its youngest who came out to the dance floor where they tossed dollar bills into the air.

With each song and dance, cheers and clapping filled the air. It served as a reminder that the future of the Akritai in Philadelphia and Pontian culture were secure, as echoed by Pavlidou-Economou in her introduction.

The Pontian community in Philadelphia is a vibrant one. With its club house just down the street and a monument dedicated to genocide outside the church, it’s a reminder of how strong a  presence they hold in the Greek community. It’s no wonder, Upper Darby is still the heart of the Greek community. Even today, with Hellenes having migrated into the suburbs.

The rich and tragic culture continues to unite and thrive in its new homeland, even if at times they feel that sense of being displaced as a foreigner. Initiated by Pavlidou-Economou in her opening remarks, it was punctuated again, by Singer Giannis Gavrilidis. He symbolized that moment while standing in the center of the crowd and singing  “Patrida ‘m araevo ‘se”.

The song is a must for Pontian singers at any event. It is an homage to the history of the Pontian people, a lament of sort; it may also be considered a sort of anthem to the soul. A sense of lost homeland is constant for the Pontian on his journey for a place in the world. It describes the emotional sense of loss and feeling out of place. The Pontian who is described and accepted as a Greek when in a foreign land. While in Greece, he is described and made to feel as a foreigner. Arguable the song symbolized the complex journey of the Pontian people that are now scattered around the world. As Gavrilidis sang, the crowd joined in. On this evening, here in Philadelphia, that question appears to have been answered.