Letter to the Greek FDF
By Christina Tasulis
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This letter from Christina Tasulis is to the Greek Folk Dance Festival Committee (FDF). The festival was held on February 17, 2011, in Ontario, California.
Dear FDF Committee,
Please accept my heartfelt congratulations for last week's incredible celebration! Everything seemed to be very well organized and everyone had a wonderful time! I especially liked the addition and convenience of food and Starbucks vendors in the center. A wonderful idea, as I'm sure it made so many parents and guests lives easier, considering the rain and bad weather. The talent show was an absolute joy to watch -- seeing that our youth are so brilliantly talented and interested in so many different areas other than just folk dancing. Bravo to the contestants and to you, the committee, for sharing their talents!
Also a highlight was the beautiful tribute to Athan Karras. I knew that his passing would be marked somehow over the weekend, but to see the Intersection come to life again, onstage, was a trip down memory lane for me. Special congratulations to the performers and the young man who spoke as and portrayed Athan that night. They did a super job!
This leads me to the actual purpose of this letter. When the young man recounted Athan's life and spoke of his contributions to the world of folk dancing, there were two untruths mentioned -- the fact that Athan "created" The Hellenic Dancers and The Intersection is completely not true. I only bring this to your attention as it concerns the memory of my late father, Chris Tasulis, who served as a judge for early Greek Folk Dance Festival (FDF) competitions and whose expertise on Greek folk dance was sought out at the initial inception of the the Folk Dance Federation of California, South. He is also listed on the Memorials and his name is whispered along with so many others during Sunday services at every FDF.
It is true that Athan served as director of The Hellenic Dancers from 1962 and only for a short time after that as his involvement in teaching at The Intersection became more of a full-time commitment. However, The Hellenic Dancers was the "creation" of my father, Chris Tasulis, in the mid-1950s. He brought together and taught specific Greek folk dances to his friends and peers within the greater Los Angeles area. They performed, not only for church events, but they were the first and only of its kind -- a professional Greek folk dance group that was contracted for hire in big screen films, television shows, even the opening of the "It's a Small World" attraction at Disneyland in the 1950s. No other such Greek folk dance group existed then, nor has it since.
It is my hope that you can possibly forward this information to the young man who portrayed Athan and to his speech writer. Whoever wrote that speech obviously knew Athan and was close to him and his work which means that they would have been at his funeral, last February, where DImitris Liappas, from the Caloyeras program at Loyola, where Athan also taught, spoke beautifully of Athan, mentioning how my parents, Chris and Helen, met Athan in 1962 and brought him to Los Angeles for the first time. After years of leading The Hellenic Dancers, my father needed to find a replacement director with as much fervor and passion for Greek dance as he had. He found that passion in Athan who was more than happy to step in.
I would also have been at the tribute dinner to Athan, last November, and heard my emotional speech of how, for weeks, Athan sat at my father's bedside 17 years ago during his final days -- a memory for which I will always cherish and forever be grateful.
Another speaker that night was Louise Anderson Bilman who spoke of how Athan became a part of The Intersection team and taught. I'm sure you know Louise -- she's been a judge for FDF for, well, forever, and she just happens to be the original "creator" of The Intersection (along with her friend Rudy Dannes), before Athan came to Los Angeles. I have copied Louise and her husband Jozef with this e-mail so that they know that I will never cease to seek true credit where it is due and in case they would like to add or correct any information that I have cited in this letter.
The existence of The Hellenic Dancers spanned over 30 years -- from the mid 1950s to the mid 1980s -- during which time there were several directors and many dancers. Even though my father no longer served as main director after 1962, he was always involved and assisted in all of their productions. I know this to be true because I was right there by his side! An interesting note is that FDF judges George Nichols, Mary Coros, and the late Nikos Varvitsiotis (one of FDF's awards is in his name) also danced with The Hellenic Dancers in the 1960s through 1970s. Also, Charlie Kyriacou not only danced but directed The Hellenic Dancers in the mid 1970s through the 1980s. And even though Louise Bilman never actually performed with the group, she was an irreplaceable collaborator who assisted in the success of the group's authenticity and art form. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of these people, their friendship with my parents, and their love of Greek dancing. I myself danced as a teenager in the late 1970s through the early 1980s. I was always proud of my involvement with the group, especially knowing that my father's vision to promote and spread the love of Greek folk dancing continued to flourish.
This letter is only meant to correct any misunderstandings, misconceptions, and/or mistruths of the real and true history of Greek dance in Los Angeles and the people whose passion and dedication have ensured that Greek dance continues to live on in our hearts, our lives, and our children's lives.
In loving memory of my father, Chris Tasulis.
May his memory never be forgotten.
Used with permission of the author.