Dancing and reside leisure are a giant a part of the Oakmont Greek Meals Competition

Dancing is an important part of Michelle Kotsagrelos’ life.

The Bethelpark resident has been teaching many people the traditional steps of the mainland and islands of Greece for more than 30 years.

“It’s such a big part of our lives,” said Kotsagrelos, assistant director of the Grecian Odyssey Dancers of East Pittsburgh. “Whenever someone meets me, they’ll know within five minutes that I’m dancing Greek. It’s so much part of who I am … it’s part of my culture. I’ve grown up with it since I was a kid. It keeps me connected with my heritage with my grandparents. You were born in Greece. “

Her late grandfather George Kotsagrelos is from Ikaria and her late grandmother Emorfia is from Kalamata and other relatives are from Limnos.

The Odyssey dancers had not performed since February 2020 because of the pandemic.

“It was difficult,” said Kotsagrelos. “It was very difficult … I played Greek music at home and just danced around on my own. Greek dance is very communal, so you need people. “

Kotsagrelos, 51, is the deputy in command directly under Director Mary Doreza, 81, of Churchill.

Both were overjoyed when they received the call to return to the Oakmont Greek Food Festival in the Dormition of the Theotokos Greek Orthodox Church on 12 Washington Avenue.

The festival took place from June 25th to 27th. Due to the pandemic, a drive-through format was adopted last year.

“We are really honored to be invited to come back,” said Doreza. “We have been here for about 30 years. For us this is a second home. We are very happy to have dancers from all over the world, and certainly many from this particular community. We dance all year round so we are prepared. We make sure we all have costumes that fit and feel that exercise is important. We try to offer them a wide variety of dances from Greece so that we can represent the whole country and not just one region. “

The group plays about 25 shows in a typical year in various locations in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

About 18 dancers performed 16 different dances in Oakmont each night. They wore traditional clothes from the 19th century.

“We are friends first and foremost,” said Kotsagrelos. “The group goes from 15 to 60 years old – some. It’s a cross-generational group. In Greek culture you are one big happy family. Even if they are not blood relatives, they are a family. “

The dances include soutsta, kalamatiano, tsamiko, baidoushka and epirtotiko.

The Junior Grecian Star Dancers, a children’s group from Oakmont Church, also returned to the dance floor.

They performed the kalamatiano, the Greek national dance.

Zoe Thompson of the new Kensington and Dormition Ward watched her daughters Micah, 7, and Evi, 5, bring joy to the crowd.

“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “I actually wore some of the costumes Evi wore today when I was around her age. It’s cool to see how the tradition is passed down to its generation. My two girls look forward to the food festival every year when they all see and dance. It’s cool to be immersed in the culture.

“We just enjoy it every year. I am so happy that we are back to what we have known for so long. We made the drive through and I wondered if we would bring the festival festival back for good. I’m so glad we did that because it’s important to the community. “

Thompson, a former Odyssey dancer, said the festival was a unifying experience and believes her girls will move on to the next level as they get older.

The band Filirakia also returned to the festival after a one-year break.


Volunteers prepared, cooked, and packed hundreds and hundreds of pounds of food over the three days.

Pastor Nancy Ioannou was one of the volunteers who worked with the pastries and other dishes. She has been involved in fundraising for at least 20 years and runs the church bookstore when she is not attending the festival.

“We don’t have to wear masks and it’s free,” said Ioannou. “We can greet and see people who were in the box last year and just made the delivery. It was a big change, very positive. “

The menu has also changed since last year. Volunteers were able to bring honey balls and moussaka – layers of ground beef, potatoes, and eggplant with bechamel sauce. Both were shortened in the course of the switch to drive-through.

They also offered typical dinners like chicken alexis, lamb knuckle, pork esouvlaki as well as gyros.

A chocolate lover pastry package has been added this year. People ordered from a line under a tent instead of going to different places for different items. There was only outdoor seating and people paid with credit or debit cards.

Andy Gavrilos, co-chair of the event, said the committee will evaluate how things are and may keep some of the adjustments for future festivals.

“This is a January problem,” said Gavrilos of future planning. “The community came out and supported us really well. We’re really happy that the Oakmont / Verona community is as generous as they are with us. They were very satisfied with the facility. They liked the idea of ​​you standing in line and getting your food and gyros. Lots of people have spoken about it. We brought the honey balls back and they worked out very, very well.

“People were ready to get out. We noticed some people were getting their food and leaving. We didn’t quite see the crowds we sometimes see hanging around the bar late at night, but that’s fine. We are happy that you came here to eat and took the opportunity to learn about the Greek heritage.

The church is in the process of converting a boat hanger into a new banquet hall. It was used for outdoor seating with around 500 people who could dine at social distance.

“With the building in the background, the open seating, we have some options and some things to think about,” said Gavrilos. “We try to find a balance between what makes our lives easier and what makes the lives of our patrons easier. I think it’s easier for them to have everything in one area. It may be a little more work for us, but we’re trying to make up for that.

“Most (of the volunteers) are very open-minded. The younger generations are more willing to go outside and work. We kept the older generations inside and out of the crowd. There is enough to do both in and out. There is a place for everyone who is willing to work. “

The money raised at the festival goes to church programs, facility improvements, and philanthropic efforts.

For more information, see dormitionpgh.org.

Michael DiVittorio is a contributor to Tribune Review. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, mdivittorio@triblive.com, or on Twitter.

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