When my wife, Jane, and I went on a cruise to the Greek Isles in 2016, a folkloric troupe from Crete came aboard ship and performed the elegant, vigorous dances of their island in traditional costume. We were right back there — similar dances, similar costumes — on Saturday night, November 10, when the OLLI Shutterbugs visited the Opa! Tampa Greek Festival at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Hyde Park Village.
The tradition of Greek dances goes back at least as far as Plato and Aristotle, and every community in Greece has its own variants. Some 10,000 in all have been counted. Circle dances are a common thread, reflecting the communal bonding at the very heart of the tradition. On the Greek mainland the dances tend to be stately, while on the islands they’re faster and more energetic. Groups of men go in for stamping and leaping (a blur when shot at 1/60thof a second).
There are more than 90,000 Greek Americans in Florida, the fourth highest state total after New York, California and Illinois. Communities have radiated out from Tarpon Springs, the city with the highest percentage of Greek Americans in the country, to which the earliest immigrants were drawn by sponge diving in a climate that reminded them of home. For more than 30 years this festival has reunited Greek Americans in our region. Opa! (Google Translate will tell you that Opa! is Greek for Opa!)
Shelly Belzer, a retired New York Times editor, has been a member of OLLI-USF since 2012. In addition to leading the Shutterbugs SIG, he is a founding member of the OLLI Hikers SIG. He has taken courses on art, poetry, China, Spanish and Hillsborough County’s wild lands.