Greek festivals in Los Angeles and the greater Southern California region have developed quite a following, and with over a dozen events coming to the Valley in 2018, there's no shortage of opportunities to experience Greek culture this year.
Almost every Greek Orthodox church has an annual festival to benefit the church, and fans of Greek folk dancing, music, and food will have plenty of chances to enjoy them throughout the season; most events are either free or cheap, so there's nothing stopping you from the fun.
If it's your first Greek Festival, don't be afraid to jump on the dance floor with everyone else and learn as you go. Although there are some complex Greek dances, many of them have just a few repeated steps you can easily follow if you remember a few simple rules for Greek dancing.
Rules for Greek Dancing
Whether you're jumping in with a partner or going solo on the dance floor, the first rule of Greek dancing is to always follow the leader. When a dance has a lot of variations, there is no particular order to dancing the steps, so the leader will call out which step to take with hand signals.
Never try to join a line at the right end (the front of the line) and overtake the leader; beginners should always join at the back of the line. You will see experienced dancers break into the middle of a line, but this should only be done if you already know the steps and won't trip up other dancers in the line.
If you're having a hard time getting the steps, or can't see the leader from your position in line, you might want to go behind the leader for a few minutes to practice the steps before joining the end of the line.
Common Dance Styles in Greek Culture
At many Greek festivals, they teach a couple of the dances once or twice a day so that beginners get a chance to learn the steps properly. You can also ask some of the more experienced dancers to show you the steps in between songs or when the band takes a break.
The most common dance is known as the Syrto, which doesn't have many variations and is often performed with a 20-minute medley from the band. The Syrto features a 12-step slow-quick-quick, slow-quick-quick rhythm, which is pretty easy to pick up.
The other dance you will see people doing alone is the Zembekiko or drunkard's dance. This has no specific steps but involves stumbling around precariously to the rhythm of the music. In the Zembekiko you will see several dancers down on one knee clapping around a particular dancer, and then they'll trade off. There are no rules, and you can dance alone or join the clapping for someone else. As long as you're having fun, you're doing just fine.
If you find the line dances intimidating, you can also join in the Tsifteteli, the Greek version of a belly dance which can be danced as a couple or solo. There are no steps, so you can just get on the dance floor and attempt to move your belly to the beat, making up your dance steps as you go.
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On February 17 to 18, 2018, the 22nd Annual Palm Desert Greek Festival will take place at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church of the Desert. Featuring live Greek Bouzouki music and dancing, authentic foods and pastries, and Greek beer, ouzo, Metaxa brandy, and coffee, the festival costs only $3 to attend. There will also be a "Hercules Kids Zone" and a "Souvenir Agora" (market) with unique Mediterranean vendors as well as a Greek grocery store, Greek bookstore, and Greek novelty shops.
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On May 18 through 20, 2018, the Orange County Greek Festival returns to Anaheim's St. John the Baptist Church with just $3 for admission. This year, the event will feature daily church tours, cooking demonstrations, live band and Greek folk dancing performances, and a Sports Taverna (bar) to catch the days' biggest games while enjoying authentic Greek drinks and snacks.
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On May 26, 27, and 28, 2018, the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church will host the 45th Annual Valley Greek Festival with $3 for admission. Over 500 volunteers gather to perform live music and dancing, make homemade pastries and gourmet Greek foods, and sell authentic Greek arts and crafts. There will also be several exhibitions and cooking demonstrations featuring favorite dishes like Spanakopita, a spinach and cheese pastry, and Souvlaki, a marinated beef brochette.
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On June 2 and 3, 2018, the 34th Annual Downey Greek Food Festival returns to the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Downey. For just $2, you can enjoy two full days of traditional Greek cuisine, cooking demonstrations, and live music and dance. You can take the opportunity to learn how to make a classic gyro, sample some of the best Greek frappes, or try out the old-time favorite souvlakia, pork on a stick.Continue to 5 of 18 below.
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On June 8 to 10, 2018, San Diego's premier Greek festival returns to the St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church. Along with Greek foods and drinks this year, the St. Spyridon Greek Festivals will also feature popular Greek musicians The Olympians and the classic group Drómia performing on the main stage and Kompanía and Tatoolis performing popular Greek tunes at the Oracle Wine Bar Friday through Sunday. There will also be special Greek dance performances, a kids' fun zone, and church tours led by Father Andrew throughout the event.
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On June 9 and 10, 2018, the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in San Bernardino will host the Southern California Inland Empire Greek Festival on the Hill. Featuring authentic Greek food, live music, homemade pastries, and the famed Hangar 24 Tavern, this annual event brings thousands of Greek enthusiasts to the northern Valley every year. You can browse dozens of booths at the Greek Village on the Hill all weekend long where you can purchase fine arts, delicious foods, and even adult beverages in traditional Greek style.
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On June 23, 24, and 25, 2018, the Ventura County Greek Festival will take place at the Camarillo Freedom Park. Starting off with the Agiasmos (Holy Water) blessing of the festival during Friday's opening ceremony, this festival is chock-full of Greek customs and traditions. The Ventura Greek festival is also unique in that it offers special talks and performances throughout the festival including Nea Epohi (New Era) for college-aged adults, Thavmatakia (Little Miracles) for elementary school kids, and Agape (Love) for high school age children.
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On June 29 to July 1, 2018, St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church of Irvine will host the 40th Annual Taste of Greece Festival. For just $3, you can sample Greek foods, browse booths selling art, trinkets, and crafts, and enjoy live performances of traditional Greek music. A variety of youth and local groups will also be performing traditional Greek dances, including the Saint Paul's Dancers who will be returning for their second year in 2018.Continue to 9 of 18 below.
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On July 13 to 15, 2018, the St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church of Redondo Beach will host the South Bay Greek Festival. Along with typical festival attractions like Greek cuisine and live performances, this festival will also feature a raffle with a $10,000 grand prize. One-day admission to the festival is $2, but you can print coupons online for reduced price weekend passes; raffle tickets cost $50 each.
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On July 29 and 30, 2018, the Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church will host the free annual Santa Barbara Greek Festival at Oak Park in the Mission Creek area of the city. During the two-day event, you can enjoy Greek foods like gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita, loukaniko, and Greek salad, enjoy live music and dance, or enter a dollar raffle for two roundtrip tickets from Los Angeles International Airport to Athens, Greece.
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On Labor Day weekend in 2018, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of Long Beach will host the 69th annual Greek Festival By the Sea. Also known as the Long Beach Greek Festival, this annual event has been a staple of the community, welcoming over 100,000 attendees each year. Here, you can enjoy Greek beer and wine, a diverse selection of traditional and Greek fusion meals, and a variety of musical performances and dances.
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On September 8 and 9, 2018, the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church of Cardiff-By-The-Sea will host the 40th Annual Cardiff Greek Festival. You can enjoy delicious Greek food and pastries, folk dance performances by award-winning artists, tours of the church, cooking and wine demonstrations, and kids games for just $3 each day.Continue to 13 of 18 below.
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On September 29th and 30th, 2018, the Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Church will host the annual SJC Greek Festival at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center (25925 Camino Del Avion, San Juan Capistrano, California). At this annual event, you can learn about the Greek Orthodox faith while enjoying wine and beer from the taverna, sample a tasty gyro while listening to live Greek music, or shop at a Greek bazaar while your children play in the special kid's area.
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In late September 2018, the St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church will host the 57th annual Pasadena Greek Festival. Along with mouth-watering Greek foods and live music, you can meet other members of the Pasadena Greek Orthodox Community, browse arts and crafts, and even join in some traditional Greek dances. There's also a special kids' zone with rides, bounce houses, and a rock wall as well as family-friendly activities and live entertainment.
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On September 21 to 23, 2018, the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church of Lancaster will host the Antelope Valley Greek Festival. Like other Greek festivals, food takes the forefront of the AV Greek Festival with daily demonstrations and special "Greek Cooking Shows" each day as well as the chance to see Greek dancers and musicians performances.
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In early October of 2018, The Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco will host the 44th annual Bakersfield Greek Food Festival at the St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bakersfield. This three-day festival features local and international talent, church tours, multiple $500 raffle prize drawings, and a church service on Sunday morning along with Greek folk dancers and plenty of food all weekend long.Continue to 17 of 18 below.
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In early October of 2018, the Saint Sophia Cathedral at Pico and Normandie will host the 20th Annual Los Angeles Greek Festival, which welcomes over 15,000 people each year for a weekend of fun and cultural celebration. Along with typical festival performances and food vendors, the Catholic church next door will also contribute Latino musicians on Saturday and Sunday, so you'll get to experience both Greek and Latin music at this eclectic event.
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On the second weekend in October 2018, the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco will host the St. Nicholas Greek Festival at the Temecula City Hall Grounds in Old Town Temecula. Situated amongst gorgeous canyon views, this annual event features live performances, fresh Greek cuisine, workshops, and a variety of arts and crafts for sale.