Leah Anestos can't recall the exact date she first danced the kalamatino, but she's sure her footwork needed work.
"I'm Greek, so I've been doing it probably from the day I learned to walk," Anestos said.
Now a teenager, Anestos is part of Goya, one of three troupes that will dance at this weekend's Savannah Greek Festival.
The 63rd annual festival is Oct. 10-12 at the Hellenic Community Center, on the corner of Whitaker and Anderson streets adjacent to St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church.
The Greek food specialties, such as spanakopita and dolmades, may be the festival's main draw, but the nightly performances by the Goya (teenage troupe), Ta Pethia (children) and Zoe (adult) make the event special for thousands of patrons.
Costumed in traditional Greek garb, the troupes perform both the shuffle/dragging style dances and the springing/leaping routines. The Syrtaki, the best known of Greek dances thanks to the films "Zorba the Greek" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," is the top crowd pleaser.
"The festival is fun because it's the one time a year when we dance for all of Savannah, not just the Greek community," said Katina Karfakis, another Goya troupe member. "People get into it. They come out and join us and do the dances with us."
The dances are simple to learn, insists Goya troupe member Kate Tolyakova. Most are done in a circle and involve simple yet precise footwork. The challenge for the troupes, many members of which learned the steps as early elementary schoolers, is in choreographing their efforts.
The troupes begin practicing for the Greek Festival in August each year. They meet twice a week. They also perform each March 25 for Greek Independence Day and at church functions, particularly weddings.
Participation is growing. The troupes plan to compete at a regional Hellenic dance festival later this year in Orlando, Fla.
"They've really come to embrace the dancing," said Stamata Karfakis, who coaches the Goya and Ta Pethia troupes. "For many, this is a significant link to their heritage."
Folk dancing gives Greek-Americans a sense of identity. Many of the dances date back millennia. Ancient Greeks believed the gods invented dancing and offered it to mortals as a gift.
Folk dancing continues to play a role in the daily lives of Greeks around the world today as a social function.
"The dances are second nature to most of us," Anestos said. "It is one piece of Greek culture that is passed down, no matter where you live."