My big fat Greek dance off in California

Most Pima Community College students spend their Valentine’s Day doing one of either two things: They can be on a lovely date with their significant other or deep into a Ben and Jerry’s tub of ice cream as they binge watch Gossip Girl for the third time.

For members of the Greek Orthodox Church, however, Feb. 14 marks the start of their own holiday, the Greek Folk Dance Festival.

Once a year, Greeks of all ages from around the country come together for one weekend in a different location to Greek dance. These Greeks come from Hawaii, Washington, California, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona as they compete against one another.

Taking over Tucson’s very own Greek dance group from his sister, Niko Karidakis, along with his cousin, Christopher Kouris are the directors of St. Demetrios Orthodox Church’s group, “Agriogates”.

The group has been around for two years, with the name “Agriogates” deriving from the Greek word “wildcats,” Karidakis, 19, said.

With the group dancing for two days over the course of Valentine’s Day weekend, Ariogates had to start preparing for the competition in November with practices being held twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays.

“I wanted to support my god-brother, Niko,” Sophia Armogida, a member of the group, says as she dances with Ariogates for the first time. “And it’s a great way to branch out and meet new people.”

Being a full-time student is already difficult enough, but being a part of a team with bi-weekly practices and mandatory church attendance proves an even bigger time commitment, but it’s all worth it to the dancers.

There are several categories that the dancers are split into as they compete. The ages of the dancers range from elementary school students all the way up to adult “Olympian” dancers.

There are first place medals, second place medals and third places medals.  For those who offered something new to the competition, like a new style of dance that intrigues the judges, they are awarded a founders medal.  

For Ariogates, the point of FDF is less about the competition aspect of winning and more about continuing their culture and heritage. The event promotes faith and community through Greek music, language and dance and as long as they get to dance they know that they succeeded.

The family-oriented event allows everyone to be surrounded by their friends and family. These people have all known each other for years, their relationships dating back to the time they were born. Their parents are friends, their grandparents are friends and for some of them even their great-grandparents were friends.

For college students, especially those who find themselves far away from their friends, it’s a good way to regroup and see each other again.

FDF has been a reoccurring event in the lives of people in this community. The event began in 1979 and has been occurring yearly with the same values and principles.

Babies through seniors attend this event no matter where it is in the world. In 2017 it was in San Diego, in 2018 it was in San Francisco and for 2019 it will be in Ontario, California at the Ontario Convention Center.

As the event continues to grow with more churches joining and further expansion of the event, FDF will change but the meaning behind it stays the same.

“Greek dance is important to me,” Karidakis says, “I have grown up in the Greek Orthodox Church and without the people that I have grown up with from church my life just would not be the same.”

Whether or not Agriogates wins or not, the team is bound for an exciting weekend to further their culture, friendships and united love of Greek dancing.

Out of the many groups that competed, Agriogates was not one of the groups to place and get a medal. But, there is always next year.