The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of New Jersey Hellenic Folk Dance Festival (FDF) was hosted by the parish of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Annapolis, MD, from January 12 to 14, 2018.

In its 26th year, the Festival had 24 participating dance troupes from all over the Metropolis. The Greater Philadelphia Area was represented by four dance groups from three participating churches; St. Thomas Cherry Hill’s Hellenic Heritage Dance Group, under the direction of Cleo Kokolis, St. Luke Broomall’s Olympians, under the direction of Agnoula Marcantonis and Christos Yiantsos, St. George Media’s Zehyros Junior dance group (3rd – 6th grade, JOY) under the direction of Anthoula Psihalinos, and St. George Media’s Zephyros Senior dance group (7th – 12th grade, GOYA) under the direction of Philip Voutsakis.

Dancing styles from various regions of Greece were exhibited by each dance group at the competition, with the Philadelphia-area churches performing dances from Lefkada, Crete, Epirus, Central Macedonia, and Serres. Each group performed two sets of dances with corresponding costumes, one for each day of the weekend-long competition. The performances were presided over by His Eminence, Metropolitan Evangelos, and judged by a panel of three judges, inclusive of Petros Fourniotis Laskar, Executive Director of the esteemed Hellenic Roots Foundation out of New York City. Judging was based on the ethnic quality of dances, stage presence, precision, costume and director proficiency/level of difficulty.

The award for best costume in the Senior division was shared by two Philadelphia-area groups, both St. Thomas’ Hellenic Heritage Dance Group, which has amassed an enormous number of costumes over the years, and St. George Media’s Senior Zephyros dance group, whose girls wore the well-known Roumlouki costume from Alexandria, Imathia, Central Macedonia.

After a weekend of spectacular performances all-around, the St. George Media community was honored with winning first place in their respective divisions. The Zephyros Junior Group won first place in the Junior division, and the Zephyros Senior Group won first place by beating out nine other groups in the Senior division. St. George’s appearance at FDF was a first in 3 years, and also marks the first time the GOYA group had won first place in the competition. This follows a string of recent successes, including a second place finish in the Delaware Valley Youth Association’s Sights and Sounds in 2016 and third place in 2017.

St. George’s dance group was formed in 2003 by the current GOYA instructor Voutsakis and his fellow GOYAns at the time, with Dina Christou – current costume coordinator and mother of dancer Eleni Christou – as the dance instructor. Voutsakis returned to the group as an instructor in 2015 and attributes much of the success from having been in the Spirit of Macedonia, Pan-Macedonian Dance Group for 13 years, having learned under various teachers including Kosmas Yiantsos and most influentially, the esteemed Christos Tsekaris. Of the many instructors in the Philadelphia Area, Tsekaris, the former dancer and current instructor of the Spirit of Macedonia, is often named as one of the most influential forces in Greek Folkdance in the Philadelphia area for generations of dancers, having taught a number of current GOYA instructors.

St. George’s double first-place win incidentally coincided with the elevation of that community’s spiritual father to Protopresbyter that same weekend, in Annapolis. His Eminence Metropolitan Evangelos elevated Father Anastasios Bourantas to the highest level of the priesthood on Sunday, after services at St. Constantine and Hellen Cathedral, the parish that Fr. Anastasios grew up in. St. George’s dancers and their families were in attendance for the ordination service. The St. George Media Community, which celebrates its 75th Anniversary this year plans to celebrate both of these great honors.