For many years, the Greek Orthodox Choral and Dance Festival (FDF) has promoted its message and theme of Faith, Dance, and Fellowship. Of course, this is seen throughout the entire weekend when one attends the fun-filled festival. However, one group in particular embodies this theme so truly and uniquely, their story must be shared. Oi Foitites, from the St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church in San Luis Obispo, CA, came together out of inspiration from local college students. Their group name says it all! In Greek, Oi Foitites translates to “the students.” Co-Directors of the group, Simeon Comanescu (San Jose, CA) and Yanni Dalkos (Long Beach, CA), both college students at Cal Poly at the time, took on the admirable task of building a young adult dance group at the parish. In detailing the group’s inception, Dalkos said: “I had been wanting to put together a group since I found out that there was somewhat of a dance culture at SLO, but up until last year there was not enough of us to put together a coherent/solid group. A few years ago, I met Simeon when I went to Greece and upon finding out that we both went to Cal Poly, we tried to find a way to put something together. The following year I met a lot of incoming Freshman from Northern California through Simeon. They all brought the numbers that we needed to start the group, and the passion that drove our inspiration to make it all the way to FDF. The first thing we did as a group was perform at the San Luis Obispo Greek Festival in 2016 and then just took baby steps.” From there, the journey began and also provided the students with a connection to the church, some of which did not know was there.
In support, Comanescu explained the excitement that was created from launching the group. Comanescu stated: “From an experience perspective half of our group had been to FDF, and half hadn’t. So we decided that this would be a good opportunity…to teach Greek dances to kids who hadn’t been to FDF before.” In the same token, Comanescu described the special part of connecting the young adults from the local SLO colleges to their heritage. He said, how FDF “Opens up this secret door, like there’s actually something that exists where you can go for a weekend, perform a series of dances, meet a ton of new people, and just reconnect with your Greek culture…It turned out to be something beautiful in regards to [all of] us getting to know each other more.”
Dalkos started helping in the dance ministry in San Luis Obispo in 2015, with the leader Lorraine McBride. “Lorraine and I codirected the third group to compete in St. Andrew’s history,” he continued, “it was a great experience and in doing so I started getting very interested in finding a way to create a group that was around my age group.” It was only natural that Dalkos and Comanescu came together to direct, both have been long-time FDF participants. Comanescu even started dancing at the young age of four years old. The group was highly dedicated, rehearsing 2-3 times a week. In speaking with the directors, the passion for the group and the parea that was created is a very special bond.
When asked for a stand-out memory, Comanescu described a particular moment when the group was spending time together outside of a rehearsal, and how it went on to inspire their Chios suite. The group was at his home when suddenly someone put their suite’s music on and everyone started dancing one by one. “By dancing it was not only about the performance we gave, but the experience. Living in the moment. And we realized that we are dancing for each other because we love each other and we are around each other so much we want to share what we have with other people,” said Comanescu. With moments like that, of true inspiration and togetherness, fellowship is certainly present amongst Oi Foitites.
Their fellowship and community has spread beyond their dance group, it has also genuinely extended into the St. Andrew’s parish. Dalkos described, “I think that the creation of Oi Foitites has fostered a heightened sense of community among the young adults and the entire parish of St. Andrews. Getting to FDF took a lot of hard work and we got there mostly by donations, so it was amazing to see the generosity and excitement from the St. Andrew’s community. This group incorporated both discipline and a lot of fun, memorable times, which I hope that incoming and future students in San Luis Obispo can enjoy with the infrastructure that we created. I think all of us in the group found comfort in the sense of community and friendship that we were able to find that a lot of people struggle with in college.”
Dalkos and Comanescu took the task of creating a dance group for a parish and at the same time created a home-like and familiar community for local college students. All of which is commendable on all fronts. This year, Oi Foitites will be present at FDF again under the direction of Dalkos and Zoe Kanakis. Though Comanescu has since graduated, he will still be performing with the group. Dalkos explained that once he graduates, Kanakis will take on the leadership role as director to continue the legacy of the San Luis Obispo college-aged dance group. In reflecting on the fellowship of the group, Comanescu said, “There’s more to dance than dancing itself. That meaning…truly enjoying it, and enjoying the people around you.” Be sure to look for Oi Foitites this year at FDF, January 11-14, 2018 in San Francisco, CA. Visit yourfdf.org.
Email the author: Giuliana Harris