Living the Greek life: Freshman Thalea Afentoullis preserves her heritage

After performing for Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, freshman Thalea Afentoullis (second to the left in the front row) poses for a picture with her class and mom. Afentoullis enjoys hanging out backstage before and after performances with her classmates and friends. “Whenever we are not dancing, we are always backstage because we have to be ready, and we have our own dressing rooms. I just remember there being so many fun stories and we would all just eat together and be really funny,” Afentoullis said.

Courtesy of Thalea Afentoullis

After performing for Assumption Greek Orthodox Church, freshman Thalea Afentoullis (second to the left in the front row) poses for a picture with her class and mom. Afentoullis enjoys hanging out backstage before and after performances with her classmates and friends. “Whenever we are not dancing, we are always backstage because we have to be ready, and we have our own dressing rooms. I just remember there being so many fun stories and we would all just eat together and be really funny,” Afentoullis said.

Walking out on stage, freshman Thalea Afentoullis instantly smiles as excitement fills her. As she performs a Greek dance with 18 of her peers, the smell of spanakopita, gyros, pastitsio and other foods rise from tables around her. The people around her eat, laugh, talk and watch as she and her peers perform at the Greek festival. 

Afentoullis has been dancing for Assumption Greek Orthodox Church since the fourth grade. Her group performs for parties at nursing homes and businesses. In total there are 56 kids and two teachers, including her mom, that dance for her church.

I really enjoy it and especially the people that I Greek dance with. Being able to share the love for the same things, and we only see each other whenever we Greek dance, so being able to have that bond year-round is really special,” Afentoullis said.

There’s more than 1000 varieties of Greek dance such as Hasaposerviko and Kalamatiano, which is a 12-step dance, but Afentolliss’s favorite, is Pentozali. The dances focus more on the group rather than an individual.

“Pentozali is a calf-breaker. It is a faster dance that comes from the island Crete. The whole time, during the dance, you’re bouncing on your feet and wearing heels, so this is why it is a calf-breaker,” Afentoullis said. “The pain after you dance is a good kind of pain. Like after you run and your legs hurt, but you are proud of yourself for doing it. The balls of your feet cramp as you walk and having to put your heels back on for the next performance is very difficult, but it’s one of my favorite parts of it all.”

Just like the dances, the outfits come from various islands and are shipped from Greece. 

 The balls of your feet cramp as you walk and having to put your heels back on for the next performance is very difficult, but it’s one of my favorite parts of it all.

— Thalea Afentoullis

After traveling up the mountains to get to Meteora, freshman Thalea Afentoullis and her family visit a monastery. Meteora is the rock formation that Afentoullis is standing on and is located in Thessaly, Greece. “The view was gorgeous and the air up there made me feel like I was in a whole new world,” Afentoullis said.

The outfits are handmade and have many layers depending on where you are in Greece. As you go more north the outfits are thicker and as you go south they are less thick. It mainly is based on the temperature.
“The outfits consist of a dress, vest, a piece that looks like an apron, heels and headpiece,” Afentoullis said. “It is kind of painful sometimes because you are dancing all of these different kinds of dances in heels and almost 10 layered costumes and it gets super sweaty and painful.”

Afentoullis is Greek Orthodox. She attends church every Sunday with her family. Her services are four hours, which include readings from the Old Testament and then into the Divine Liturgy and finally Orthos.

Everytime I walk in[to church], it’s just magical because it’s filled with people who love you and filled with paintings, songs and memories from when I was little. It’s just overall one of my favorite places to be,” Afentoullis said.

Easter is one of Afentoullis favorite holidays. One Easter tradition is to get candles and red eggs to celebrate the resurrection. To make red eggs, hard-boiled eggs are dyed red. Traditionally, two people hold eggs and bang them together at the same time. Whoever’s egg doesn’t break receives good luck.

My favorite Greek tradition is probably Easter. I enjoy being able to go to church at midnight because we celebrate all day from midnight to whenever. I enjoy being able to go to church and see my friends and hang out with them at like three in the morning,” Afentoullis said.

As well as going to church, Afentoullis goes to Greek school every Tuesday. Due to COVID-19, her church has had Zoom meetings on Thursdays. She has been going to Greek school since she was five, learning how to read, write and speak the language. 

Everytime I walk in[to church], it’s just magical because it’s filled with people who love you and filled with paintings, songs and memories from when I was little.”

— Thalea Afentoullis

My favorite word is probably louloudi [λουλούδ] which means flower. It has always been really pretty. I like that one. It always looks pretty written,” Afentoullis said. 

Afentoullis has traveled to Greece twice and stays with both sets of her grandparents. One of her grandparents has a house in the mountains and the other on the beach on the island Rhodes. Eventually, the house will be passed down to her parents and then to her and her cousins.

In the mountains, my favorite thing is probably to visit Meteora which is their big monasteries which are like churches on tall mountains. You drive your car up there and you get to see all the villages. Then you walk up to the church,” Afentoullis said.

Each monastery honors a different saint. People come from all over the world to pray to them and to look at them. 

“It feels like you’re in a whole new world and everyone there is just living their best life. It’s Europe and people are more chill, and they nap a lot. It is really peaceful and I would want to go there because it is so pretty and it feels like a different reality,” Afentoullis said. 

Although Afentoullis’s parents could pack up and move to Greece at any time, they choose to stay. Afentoullis and her family are not ready to leave their life here behind, but in the future, may move to Greece. 

I see me going to Greece a lot more often in the future and living there. I plan on finishing college here and then getting married in Greece and living there. Maybe have a Mamma Mia moment,” Afentoullis said.