HistoryConnecting People, Traditions & Generations
The Greek Orthodox Folk Dance & Choral Festival
The teens and young adults of the parish youth council at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego, California were ready to embrace Greek dance in the 1970s. They had seen professional folk dance groups like the Intersection from Los Angeles and the Festival Ensemble from Oakland perform, and they wanted to do the same. Shortly after Peter Preovolos became the advisor to the youth council in 1975, he learned that the teens and young adults in the group had been taking Greek folk dance classes, led by international folk dance authorities, Don and Ellie Hiatt.
Unlike young people in Los Angeles or San Francisco who played in sports leagues with other nearby parishes, the Greek parish in San Diego was relatively isolated. Folk dancing was a way to bring the group in San Diego closer to young Greeks in other communities. Preovolos suggested that the youth group put on a folk dance competition and invite other parishes to join in. Fifty parishes were contacted, and rules and a structure for the first FDF were put together. The Greek Orthodox Youth Folk Dance Festival took place within the next year.
1976 to 1990 | The Early Years of the Folk Dance Festival
The First FDF Five groups from different parishes participated during the first 2-day festival – a total of 39 dancers. Surrounded by rented bleachers in the parish hall, with judges looking on from the stage, the groups danced to music from cassette tapes or records.
1976 | The First FDF
Five groups from four different parishes participated during the first 2-day festival – a total of 39 dancers. Surrounded by rented bleachers in the St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church parish hall, with judges looking on from the stage, the groups danced to music from cassette tapes or records.
1978 | FDF Outgrows the Church Hall
The second festival was held in January 1978. With parishes from Castro Valley, San Jose and Tucson joining in, the organizers rented a hall at the Masonic Temple in San Diego. Inspired by the festival, dancers from Castro Valley and San Jose developed the concept of a Youth Conference to expand the Orthodox Christian Missionary movement and to work with the FDF. The Spirit Award was given this year, making it the oldest award, last given in 1987.
1979 | Ministry of the Diocese of San Francisco
The third FDF expanded to include dancers from the Long Beach parish. All of the dance groups came together that year to put on a public performance at the Performing Arts Center of El Cajon. During that year, a Folk Dance Festival Council was formed and the program came under the supervision of the Diocese of San Francisco.
1980 | National Participation
In 1980, the fourth festival was held outside of San Diego for the first time at St. Nicholas Parish in San Jose. 16 dance groups from 11 parishes danced, including teams from Detroit, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Seattle and New Jersey sent representatives, as well.
1981 | Another 50% Increase in Participants Over the Previous Year
It was back to San Diego in 1981. Vacation Village Hotel on Mission Bay was the venue, where 25 teams, including the team from Seattle, Washington, participated.
1982 | Festival in Fresno
A dance group from Fresno was one of the original groups to compete at the first festival – forever a special community in FDF history. The festival had grown in size and numbers, requiring the Hilton Hotel, the Fresno Convention Center, and the Del Webb Grand Ballroom. More than 1,500 people attended the public performance, “A Grecian Folk Dance Fantasy.”
1983 | 34 Teams, 800 Dancers
The 1983 festival was held at the Sheraton Harbor Island Hotel, with 1,200 registrants. The public dance performance was replaced by a western night-barbeque, country western band and square dancing – at Sea World theme park. Two new awards for music and costumes were added.
1984 | Annunciation Parish of Sacramento
53 performing groups gathered at the 1984 festival, breaking all previous records. Groups from as far as Monmouth Beach, New Jersey and Seattle, Washington joined in.
1985 | Resurrection Greek Orthodox Church, Castro Valley
The Preamble Workshop, thanks to Fr. Avramis, and the Yearbook were introduced in 1985, and the FDF Council added the Humanitarian Award.
1986 | St. Spyridon
The Folk Dance Festival returns to its birthplace.
1987 | 11th Annual FDF
The Assumption Parish of Long Beach, CA welcomed the festival.
1988 | 2,500 Guests Registered
Sacramento saw 90 individuals registered for 92 dance groups, including one from Cherry Hill, NJ.
1989 | Oakland Greek Community
Another “first” for FDF happened in 1989. A second-generation dancer, a child born to two FDF dancers, participated. Elaine Pepares, outgoing president of FDF, handed the reins to Charlie Kyriacou, leaving the organization larger and stronger than ever.
1990 | Seattle, Washington
The Festival moved outside of California for the first time, to a snowy Seattle.
One key aspect was that we did not want the concept or the organization to be co-opted by adults. We wanted it to remain a young-adult organized and run event.
It actually is like a second heartbeat for me. I teach the kids how to praise God's name through dance. I teach them regions, about ethnic backgrounds, what they're doing and what it means.
FDF was very instrumental in my career and in bringing out a talent that I didn't know I had, in finance, budgeting and cost control, which I'm still working in today.