U students experience Taste of Greece Festival

Greek culture was celebrated with dancing, live music, art, food and games.

Local dancers Panos Delton, left, Vicki Withers, center and Nicholas Mortari perform at the Taste of Greece Festival Saturday at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Uptown.  They are a part of the folk dance troupe Greek Dancers of Minnesota.

Local dancers Panos Delton, left, Vicki Withers, center and Nicholas Mortari perform at the Taste of Greece Festival Saturday at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Uptown. They are a part of the folk dance troupe Greek Dancers of Minnesota.

Laura Sievert

Crowds of Greeks and non-Greeks alike flocked to the Taste of Greece Festival  this weekend to indulge in gyros, drink Mythos beer and watch the dancers jump and twirl to the sounds of traditional Greek music.
The 22nd annual Taste of Greece Festival was held Friday through Sunday by St. MaryâÄôs Greek Orthodox Church. Hundreds of Minnesotans celebrated the traditions with dancing, live music, art, drinks, food and games.
The Greek Dancers of Minnesota performed five times on both Friday and Saturday nights. This group is directed by Angela Mortari, who is an associate professor in the pediatrics department at the University of Minnesota. She started the group in 1996 as a way to educate people about all Greece has to offer.
âÄúIt is many cultures within a single culture,âÄù she said.
For this reason, the dancers perform several different types of movements, each corresponding with a different region of the country.
Mortari frequently spends time in Greece finding the group new costumes to represent each region and dance to continue that authenticity.
âÄúThe goal is to preserve the Greek culture and heritage and to depict the way it originally was,âÄù Mortari said.
The Greek dancers perform at approximately 75 shows throughout the Midwest each year. Its members are between 10 and 60 years old. The age variation is to preserve the tradition of an entire Greek village dancing together, Mortari said.
Yeoryia Christoforides, a junior at the University and member of the Greek Dancers of Minnesota, has been learning Greek dances since she was five and grew up working in Gardens of Salonica, the Greek restaurant her parents own. She has been attending the Taste of Greece Festival her entire life and takes pride in its practices.
âÄúAmerica is a melting pot, and cultures can become indistinguishable. ThatâÄôs why Greek Fest is open to everyone but is strictly Greek,âÄù she said.
Christoforides is also vice president of the Hellenic Student Association at the University. HSA is made of mainly international Greek students who want to maintain their connection to their Greek identity, she said.
Christoforides also spent a few months studying abroad in Greece to practice the language and dances in their original culture. Anna Burger  did the same and attended Greek Fest for the first time this weekend. She described the experience as âÄúeverything and anything involving Greece.âÄù
Festival Chairman Greg Mairmares said that the festival is growing and evolving each year. In 2009 there were 5,000 guests, and he was hoping for an increase to 6,000 for 2010.
âÄúThe main purpose of Greek Fest is to rub shoulders with others in the church that you may not talk to on Sundays and to celebrate our culture with others outside the Greek community,âÄù he said.