Clear Lake area family continues Greek traditions at home, work
John Kouloumoundras loves to dance — especially with a table in his mouth and often with chairs or other people on the table. The zeibekiko is one of many Greek dances Kouloumoundras performs at Greek festivals and other special events throughout the Clear Lake and Galveston area.
“I have danced Greek dances since I was 17,” Kouloumoundras said. “My father bribed me, saying he would pay me if I would dance at the Greek Festival. So I did, but I had never tried the table dance.”
When the great Vasilis Papavasiliou of Galveston, who performed the table dance at all the Greek festivals, went on a break, Kouloumoundras went up and performed it himself.
“It was easy for me, so when he retired, he passed on the tradition to me,” Kouloumoundras said. “He kept his table, so I made my own. This year, at the Clear Lake Greek Festival, I performed every two hours for two days. The next day I could barely open my mouth.”
The dance has a freestyle choreographic structure.
“You listen to the rhythm and make it up as you dance,” he said.
The word “zeibekiko” is derived from Zeus, the king of the gods in Greek mythology, and “bekos,” meaning “bread” in the dialect of the Greek city of Tralleis. The Greeks of Tralleis would dance zeibekiko to thank Zeus and pray for bread and fertility of the land, according to some accounts.
“The dance has a freestyle choreographic structure,” Kouloumoundras said. “Although in older times, the dance was danced by a pair of either the same or opposite sex, it has evolved into a solo dance strictly masculine and is considered in some cases offensive to be interrupted by another dancer. Occasionally, dancers perform feats such as standing on a glass of wine or a chair, or picking up a table, adding a sense of a little braggadocio and humor.”
The son of a Greek immigrant, Kouloumoundras spent summers in Greece, raised in the Greek tradition. He raises his own children the same way. For example, growing up, he and his siblings said the Psalm 23 in Greek each night before dinner, crossing themselves three times, which is a Greek tradition. They fasted from eating meat or dairy each Wednesday and Friday, another Greek tradition.
“We celebrated every holiday together; Easter is a very big deal,” Kouloumoundras said. “On Easter, we go to church at midnight, then have a big party with roasted lamb on a spit. We dance and walk around tapping each other’s eggs, and if they don’t crack, it is good luck. I’m passing on these traditions, because I want my kids to understand where they come from.”
Having married in a civil ceremony in Texas in 2008, Kouloumoundras and Jane decided to have a church wedding in Athens. Both the groom and the bride’s families joined them.
“We were married in the same church where my parents Elizabeth and Nikolaos were married and where I was baptized,” he said.
A big part of the Greek culture is the food, and eight years ago, the Kouloumoundras family decided to open a restaurant in Kemah. Using Elizabeth’s recipes, the family opened Bakkhus Taverna Greek Restaurant & Bar, 605 Sixth St.
Kouloumoundras is the assistant manager of the restaurant, opened by his father and brother.
In June, the restaurant began once a month having Greek Night, complete with music and dancing by Kouloumoundras. The family also owns another restaurant across the street from Bakkhus called Skallywag Subs N’ Grub, which serves specialty sandwiches, including brisket burgers.
In addition to running Bakkhus together, the family all lives in the Clear Lake area. His parents live across the street; his oldest brother lives around the corner and another brother lives eight houses down.
Kouloumoundras believes they all are so close because of philotimo, a Greek concept that means the spirit of doing what is right, or love of honor.
“It is being inspirited and honored to live for others at your own expense, for community, for friends and especially for family,” Kouloumoundras said. “We will never let each other down.”