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It’s all GREEK to me

Created date

January 24th, 2012

Cries of Opa! filled the Garden Room Restaurant at Eagle s Trace during the community s second annual Greek festival. Initiated by community member Bessie Rigas, the event celebrates Greek heritage, food, and dancing at the Erickson Living community in West Houston. Bessie, who emigrated from Nafpaktos, Greece, in 1961, owned several restaurants in New Jersey and Texas before she retired. The main reason I chose Eagle s Trace was its proximity to my church, St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church, says Bessie. I thought it would be fun to share a little bit of my culture with my neighbors.

Yia Yia Dancers

To encourage others to get in the spirit, Bessie recruited six friends from Eagle s Trace to form a Greek dance troupe. The women worked with Paula Varsamis, one of Bessie s fellow church members, to learn traditional Greek dances. We practiced for five weeks, says Emily Thomas. It was a bit awkward at first learning the steps, but it was fun once we got the hang of it. Adds Varsamis, The residents caught on quickly. Calling themselves the Yia Yia Dancers yia yia is the Greek word for grandmother the group got the celebration under way with two dances, the Kalamatiano and the Tsamiko. Both dances are typically performed at every Greek celebration baptisms, weddings, any big occasion, says Varsamis. The high-energy performance had the crowd cheering and clapping along. Eagle s Trace residents and members of St. Basil the Great Greek Orthodox Church filled the Garden Room Restaurant to capacity. They [Yia Yia dancers] are unbelievable, says Eagle s Trace resident Dorothy Davison. You can t help but clap along.

Fun for all

Two other Greek dance troupes and a soloist rounded out the evening s performances. The Olympian Dancers of Houston, wearing costumes from the Black Sea region, and a high school group called the Dancing Papoutsia, wearing costumes from the island of Crete, gave lively performances. Soloist Tommy Denos amazed the audience with his fancy footwork, most notably with a glass of wine balanced on his forehead. Cries of encore nudged the Yia Yia Dancers on to the dance floor one last time. Their performance of the Greek folk dance, Hasaposerviko, brought several audience members to their feet. The evening ended on a sweet note, with residents and guests enjoying sumptuous Greek desserts, including Koulourakia cookies and homemade gingerbread. Bessie, visibly delighted at the evening s celebration, looked every bit the quintessential Greek yia yia. Everyone knows Bessie at church, just as it appears they do here at Eagle s Trace, says Varsamis. She is well loved. It s fun to see [my neighbors] and church members having a good time, says Bessie. That s what this evening is all about.