Greek dance pioneer Athan Karras, who choreographed routines for Broadway and Hollywood and was considered one of the leading authorities on Greek folk dancing in America, died Friday, Feb. 12, 2010. The Tarzana man was 82. (Courtesy photo)

Greek dance pioneer Athan Karras, who choreographed routines for Broadway and Hollywood and was considered one of the leading authorities on Greek folk dancing in America, has died. The Tarzana man was 82.

Also appearing on stage and in television and motion pictures as a dancer, Karras founded the Greek-language Theater in Los Angeles, where he produced and choreographed several plays.

A noted dancer, teacher and choreographer who for 25 years taught Greek culture and dance at Loyola Marymount University, Karras died of complications from coronary bypass surgery Friday.

Frosene Phillips, editor of the Greek-American monthly Hellenic Journal, said Karras was the country's leading voice of Greek folk dancing.

"Athan was Zorba the Greek come to life," said Phillips, who also edited his column at the San Francisco-based publication. "Zorba was a free spirit, and so was Athan. He inspired people. He was driven. He was relentless."

Fittingly, said Phillips, the name of Karras' column was "Did You Say Dance?" - Anthony Quinn's memorable line in the beachside climax of "Zorba the Greek."

Karras produced Greek festivals at the University of California, Los Angeles, Loyola Marymount and the University of California, Berkeley. He also created ethnic folklore programs for the Southern California Heritage Society, and he co-founded the Intersection Folk Dance Center - a coffee house where in the 1960s Marlon Brando, Telly Savalas and other celebrities often went to dance.

In Hollywood, Karras choreographed dance scenes for numerous TV commercials, specials and films such as the 1981 remake of "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

"While he loved, enjoyed and respected all work preserving Greek dance, Athan preferred to reinterpret dance for the present," his widow, Jeanne Karas, said Monday.

Karras starred in one of the first Greek-American films, "Dark Odyssey." He is featured in many folk-dance manuals and multi-cultural videos, and he is the author of numerous articles on Greek dance and music.

Born Athan Karas in Thessaloniki, Greece, Sept. 22, 1927, he adopted Karras as his theatrical name - and came to embody the immigrant American Dream, arriving in the United States not knowing English but nevertheless speaking a universal language.

"For me, dance has always been a way to communicate when words failed," Karras wrote of his heritage in one column, where he recalled as a teenager learning the boogie woogie and the Lindy hop.

"Later, when I joined the Coast Guard and was sent to the South Pacific, the only way I knew to communicate with the natives was by dancing with them ... We couldn't speak to one

Greek dance pioneer Athan Karras, who choreographed routines for Broadway and Hollywood and was considered one of the leading authorities on Greek folk dancing in America, died Friday, Feb. 12, 2010. The Tarzana man was 82. (Courtesy photo)

another but through dance we expressed our joy and feelings."He remembered that, while a sailor in San Francisco, after losing all his money in a craps game, he browsed along Market Street and found himself homesick in a Greek restaurant where he ordered a meal even though he was broke.

"A nice-looking family with two gorgeous daughters caught my eye," he wrote. "As the (Greek) music began, they started to dance, I leapt onto the dance floor and joined the line. In no time, the girls pushed me to lead the dance, and soon we were laughing and dancing as if we knew each other all our lives.

"Their father generously took care of my bill ..."

Maria Vlahos Sullivan of Oakland, one of the two daughters who

Greek dance pioneer Athan Karras, who choreographed routines for Broadway and Hollywood and was considered one of the leading authorities on Greek folk dancing in America, died Friday, Feb. 12, 2010. The Tarzana man was 82. (Courtesy photo)

became lifelong friends with Karras, remembered that the young sailor was an incredible dancer."My father saw Athan sitting by himself and said, `That sailor is all alone. Someone should pick up his bill,"' Sullivan said in a phone interview.

"We danced and I don't think his feet ever touched the ground. People even applauded.

"The next day he shipped out."

After his stint in the Coast Guard, Karras attended New York University, where he studied classical dance and later also studied under Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen and at the American School of Dance and the Carnegie Hall Dance Studios.

Eventually he became a member of the Greek National Theater and the Dora Stratou National Greek Folk Ensemble.

"My father had a zeal for life, always taking on new endeavors," said his daughter, Eleni Karas. "Activity, generosity and hospitality defined him."

At Loyola Marymount University, Karras also choreographed several productions of Greek tragedies such as "The Persians," "Helen" and "Thesmophoriazusae."

After creating the Intersection Folk Dance Center in Los Angeles, he carried on the tradition by founding the Athens Intersection in Athens below the Acropolis.

Karras is survived by his wife Jeanne, their daughter Eleni and their son George, daughter Daphne Byers from his first marriage, his brother Gus and three grandchildren.

Tikanese and Yasou Y'all

Thank you Tony Castro of the Daily News Los Angeles for that fantastic and beautiful obit and double thanks to Frosene Phillips the editor and publisher of the Hellenic Journal which Athan wrote a monthly column until he passed away, called  to a new assignment in heaven.

Therefore, we humbly present a special 30 minute tribute to the Real Zorba The Mad Greek, my mentor and second father Athan Karras who gave so much in his efforts to promote and expand the Hellenic ideals, culture and influence not through forced imposition or prideful boasting in bombastic expressive methods but by sharing his heart and love of his heritage as well as the appreciation of the opportunities that this great land of ours gave him.  He loved Greece but his home was America and with that we present to you our tribute to the man who was Axios!  Worthy!

Zorba The Mad Greek

OPA FROM GREECE WITH LOVE

www.opafromgreecewithlove.com

KCLA FM 99.3 -- LOS ANGELES

www.kclafm.com