Meet the 2 women behind the Greek festival dance costumes


Ten years ago, Elaine Mahairas stopped by her church to return the costumes that her three children had borrowed for a dance performance at the annual Greek festival of Yiasou at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity. The mundane race led to an opportunity.

The woman who ran the church costume room asked Mahairas if she would be ready to help. Mahairas agreed and started with simple tasks like distributing and collecting costumes.

Two years later, this woman retired and Mahairas took over the costume management for the dance program. Holy Trinity has the largest church-affiliated Greek folk dance program in the United States.

Mahairas works with a committee of four women to maintain the costume collection, repair older costumes and make new ones. She learned to sew just five years ago.

“I didn’t know how to sew at all,” said Mahairas, from Charlotte. “I had to have it in me and I didn’t know it. I bought a sewing machine and searched for it on Google, and learned to sew on my own.

7.JPG Costumes
Olympia Bisbikis (left) and Elaine Mahairas perform repairs in the costume room of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity ahead of the Hellenic Dance Festival 2020. Courtesy of Elaine Mahairas

Authentic Greek costumes

Costumes are an essential part of the Greek folk dance program of the Holy Trinity.

They are worn by the 350 children who dance at the festival each year. Holy Trinity has held the Greek Yiasou Festival every fall for 41 years. This year’s festival is canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Greek Folk Dance Main.jpg
Elaine Mahairas dresses a dancer in preparation for the Hellenic Dance Festival 2020 in Orlando. Mahairas directs the costume room at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Charlotte. Each costume she makes is faithful to the region of origin of the dance. This dancer costume represents the village of Lefkopigi in Macedonia. Michael Sellas Photography

100 other students dance in the competitive program. Students each bring two costumes to the competition. Competitive dance instructors choose the music and dance and shoot costume images for Mahairas to review.

They work together to choose the best suits, either by tapping into the current inventory of blouses, dresses, pants, shirts, skirts and vests, or by sewing new ones. Sometimes a dancer can repurpose a costume and add a scarf or other accessory to make it true to the region of origin of the dance.

They make sure to respect the colors of the costumes of the village.

“This (the costume) has to go together,” Mahairas said. “We are in competition. We go there to win. It is in part: “Is this costume authentic for this village?” Are the dances authentic? ‘ Everything must flow together. “

Costumes 6.jpg
Members of the “Fourtouna” group from the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity perform a traditional dance from the village of Lefkopigi in Macedonia at the 2020 Hellenic Dance Festival in Orlando. Michael Sellas Photography

Costumes tell a story

Olympia Bisbikis moved from Greece to Knoxville in 1973 and to Charlotte six years later. Bisbikis has been sewing costumes for 35 years, the last 16 for the Holy Trinity Costume Committee.

Like Mahairas, she is self-taught. Her two daughters danced as children and her five grandchildren participated in the dance program at Holy Trinity. She sews most of the costume appliqué pieces by hand.

“Every costume is important to me,” Bisbikis said. “They have their own story. You can learn about the regions of Greece through the costumes. Each costume represents its region. It is an important way to learn about our culture.

Mahairas remembers taking out a Thracian robe from the costume room and Bisbikis said, “I did it.”

The Thracian costume is generally worn by young girls. It is a white underwear with a colored border sewn on the bottom. A black dress is worn over it. Bisbikis did it for her granddaughter 16 years ago.

Costumes 1.JPG
Members of the “Armonia” group from the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Trinity perform a traditional Tilos Island dance at the 2018 Hellenic Dance Festival in Orlando. Yiannis Photography

“My second love”

Two rooms with high ceilings are filled with more than 2,800 costumes, representing hundreds of villages in Greece. They are hung from shelves that run along the walls. Plastic bins and cabinets hold accessories such as hats, jewelry, scarves, and scarves.

It takes four to five hours to cut and sew a custom costume. Adding buttons, embroidery or other decorations takes extra time.

There are no models to follow. Bisbikis and Mahairas recreate costumes from images in books and online and create a pattern on art and craft paper. After they measure the dancers, other volunteers help sew the costumes.

10.jpeg costume
Men from the Greek Orthodox Holy Trinity Cathedral dressed in costume at the Yiasou Greek Festival in Charlotte. They are dressed as Evzones (members of the Greek Presidential Guard). Angelo Politis

“We try to copy the images as much as possible,” Mahairas said. “If he has something special like fur, we’ll make sure to put it on the costume.”

They buy fabrics that look like what could have been used in the village but more often they choose muslin and linen for the warm weather and wool for the cool weather. The two women embroider, an embellishment that takes time but is greatly appreciated at the time of judgment.

“It became my second love,” Mahairas said. “I’ve missed it so much since COVID, I couldn’t wait to walk into that costume room. It has become such a big part of my life and the life of my family.

More artistic coverage

Want more art stories like this delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to the free “Inside Charlotte Arts” newsletter on

You can also join our Facebook group, “Inside Charlotte Arts”, at

This story was originally published August 26, 2020 11:19 am.


Gerald R. Schneider

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.