Editor’s note: This story was originally published in October 2018.
From the 1950s into the early 1990s, when many Bangorians flipped their calendars from September to October, a date sometime that month would have already been circled: the date of the Greek Ball, the unofficial start to Bangor’s social year.
Organized for more than 40 years by the parish council of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Bangor, the Greek Ball attracted close to 1,000 people each year at its peak in the 1960s and 1970s. It was renowned for its elaborate decorations, top-notch music and food, eye-popping fashion, enthusiastic dancing and its steady flow of ouzo, the beloved Greek liqueur.
“Everybody dressed to the nines. It was the social event of the season,” said Susan Jonason, a parishioner at St. George’s, though she arrived in Bangor in 1994, just after the last kalamatianos was danced at the last Greek Ball held in 1993. “I would just have loved to see that.”
Longtime St. George member Lambros Karris went nearly every year, starting when he arrived in Bangor in 1969 until the the last dance was held 24 years later.
“It was something that everybody in the church worked really hard on, and it was a really significant cultural event for the area,” said Karris, a retired professor at Husson University. “It was a chance to wear tuxedos and get dressed up. It was something different.”
“I remember the fun of it — the anticipation, shopping for a dress, getting all gussied up,” said Paula Page, who with her husband was a church member for years until they moved to Florida a decade ago. “It was just a bit party for everybody, Greek or not.”
There were other social events in Bangor, such as the events held by the Eastern Maine Medical Center Auxiliary, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and the YMCA — but none had either the cachet, nor were quite as over-the-top, as the Greek Ball. Decorations were a major part of the event each year; Greek columns, costumes, statues and other icons of Greek antiquity were crafted by organizers, right alongside the homemade baklava.
“One year we had a huge Trojan horse that we made, right at the entrance to the event. My son George dressed as a Greek soldier from antiquity. Those are the kinds of things you remember,” Karris said.
“I remember building that thing on somebody’s lawn in Hampden because that was the only place we could fit that monstrosity,” Page said. “It was really such a hoot.”
“We just want to cook up some really great food, and carry on these traditions, and get into the spirit of the culture through dancing,” Jonason said. “We’re a fun bunch.”
The Dancing With The Greeks event is also now the only place Bangor residents can get their hands on the fabulous gyros, souvlaki, spanakopita and other classic Greek dishes that were traditionally a part of St. George’s booth at the American Folk Festival food court. This year was the first year St. George’s did not participate, which Jonason says was simply due to the amount of time and effort it takes to make all that food for three days.
“It’s a huge responsibility that takes up an enormous amount of the summer, and at some point, you just need a break,” she said. “But that’s why we’re bringing it back to the Greek dance, so people can still get a taste of our cooking.”
Hospitality is a fundamental aspect of Greek and Greek-American culture, Karris said, and that’s why everything St. George’s does — the ball, the folk festival booth and, now, the Dancing With The Greeks event — reflects that spirit.
“Greeks are very hospitable people. In the Greek language, the word ‘hospitality’ translates to ‘friendship to the stranger,’ and I think that’s why people always want to come to what we do,” he said.
Eleven years ago, Jonason and other parishioners decided to bring back some of the elements of the Greek Ball — the food and the dancing, specifically — with a new event, also to be held in the fall. Dancing With The Greeks, as it is now called, has been held in late October or early November most years since then, at Wellman Commons on Union Street.