Greek-American Historical Museum of Washington State

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1-zaphara-2016Zaphara loves this quote from the stage play and musical Auntie Mame knowing that many people have not been able to live a full life.  She has filled her life through dance, travel, work and even as a bus driver.



Her father, Nicolas “Nick” Estasio Triantafilopoulos was born in Kalavrita, Greece, in the Peloponnese in 1898.  When he passed through Ellis Island with his brother Ross before World War II, the name was shortened to Phillips.   Zaphara knows the brothers worked on farms in Montana for a while and somehow migrated to Seattle, Washington.   Nick remained in Seattle while Ross moved to Grants Pass, Oregon, and worked in the logging industry.  Nick operated a barber shop on 34th and Fremont in Seattle and bought a house nearby on Second Avenue North.  Zaphara treasurers a post card, translated by her friend Yvonne Hunt (see DANCE GIVES VOICE TO THE SOUL), which Nick wrote to his future wife, Alexandra.

3-nick-phillips-passport-1947 4-alexandras-passportAlexandra (nee Mouskas or Mouska) was born in 1917 in Igoumenitsa in northern Greece.  Her family moved to Aigio (Aeghion, Aegion, Aegio or Egio) in the Peloponnese.  When Zaphara was 21 years old she visited her mother’s home in the tiny village and met her 97-year old grandfather for the first time.  Zaphara’s grandmother died in the 1917 flu epidemic. Neither her grandfather nor her uncles disclosed anything about their lives in Greece.  Nick returned to Greece to marry Alexandra and they spent eight months in Athens.  When they traveled to Seattle, Alexandra was eight months pregnant.  Zaphara (officially Zaphera Frances Phillips and nicknamed “Zepphie” or “Zafiroula” in her younger years), was born at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, Washington, on October 11.

Nick and Alexandra were rather private people who spoke little English and, 5-nicholas-and-alexandra-1940ssince the family attended the Pentecostal Church, their contact with other Greek families was limited to few in their neighborhood or occasionally at Greek Orthodox weddings.  Zaphara fondly remembers the Lillas and Hamilos (see GIFTS OF FAITH AND CULTURE) families who lived nearby. When she was six years old, the family moved to the home on Fremont Avenue where she still lives.  Nick  moved his barber shop to First and Madison near the Federal 5a-barber-shop-business-cardBuilding in downtown Seattle, just south of the  barber college from which he had a ready source of interns and employees for his four-chair shop. He worked six days a week until he was 75 years old.  Zaphara remembers her father as a small, kind and gentle man who also loved to make wine in his home, filling two big barrels.  He might have one or two glasses of wine after dinner but, when headed for a third, was admonished by Alexandra.   The barber shop was in a rough area.  He would share an occasional glass of wine with the “indigent folks” and thus was never disturbed at that location.  One evening in 1967, while coming home from work, Nick was struck by an automobile and died two 6-nick-in-his-barber-shop-1970sweeks later.

In the years before and after his death, Alexandra continued as a homemaker and also attended classes at Edison (now Seattle Central College) to prepare for her citizenship; her limited English kept her from obtaining the credential.  She was very frugal and Zaphara was surprised to learn that her mother was taking the bus and going from house to house in upscale neighborhoods offering her services as a house cleaner.  Alexandra even worked cleaning a couple of motels of questionable repute on Aurora Avenue until her daughter informed her of the activities there.  In 1984 Alexandra was not feeling well but avoided seeing a doctor even with Zaphara’s insistence.  On New Year’s day 1986 Alexandra did not answer the telephone.  Zaphara rushed over to find her collapsed on the floor.  Alexandra was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had immediate surgery.  Still, Alexandra refused additional treatment saying “I’m not going to give him my money as I’m going to die anyway.”  Zaphara lived with and cared for her mother for the next year and a half until Alexandra died in 1987.


7-zaphara-as-a-babyDuring her young and formative years, Zaphara was closely protected by her mother.  Perhaps the combination of the Pentecostal faith and limited English kept Alexandra from exposing her daughter to the outside world.  However, Zaphara was a little zizanio (pest or irritant) who was always restrained.  When she began to dance to Lawrence Welk music on the television, Alexandra would stop her.  On one occasion, at the age of five or six, she snuck out of the house and took the bus to visit her father at his shop.  Subsequently, with permission, her Saturday pleasure was visiting her dad, having “the run of the shop” and receiving money with which she would purchase Chinese food, comic8-nicholas-alexandra-and-zaphara-1950s books and magazines. Zaphara spoke only Greek until she began school at North Queen Anne Elementary and learned English informally.  She struggled with English grammar and spelling and on one occasion, after her teacher grabbed her roughly by the arm, she ran home screaming to her mother.  Alexandra marched her back to school and lectured the teacher in Greek.  Learning was encouraged but socializing or playing after school was forbidden and, while attending Hamilton Junior High and Lincoln High Schools, she was expected home by 3:10 pm.

Her one privilege was visiting the library and Zaphara would read under her covers with a flash light until her mother caught her. Zaphara persisted and won a contest at the Fremont neighborhood library. After reading 150 books one summer she even appeared on Wunda Wunda, the local television show for children where she reviewed two books.

The family attended their small Pentecostal Church on Sixth Avenue North and the Fremont Tabernacle.  Zaphara never missed a Sunday for 14 years. There were occasional outings to the beach and one trip that she remembers to Oakland, California, for a church convention.

While Nick was busy working, Alexandra was busy keeping up with her active daughter.  Zaphara did not date until she “became sneaky about it.”  There were exceptions.  During her teenage years the family attended a Greek Orthodox wedding where Alexandra pressed her daughter to dance with a young Greek 9-zaphara-circa-1965man who had just come from Greece and had a car and a job.  Zaphara was stunned when the man appeared at the Phillips home the following Sunday.  She and the young man went to a small Greek restaurant where he “showed her off” to the owner, then to Golden Gardens Park where he let her drive his car.  When he made inappropriate advances, Zaphara cursed at him and demanded to be taken home immediately where she told her mother of the incident.  When he came by the next Sunday, Alexandra screamed at him, chased him out the back door and told him never to come back.  Many years later Zaphara recognized him at a Seattle restaurant and both had a big laugh over the earlier incident.

Zaphara married Rodney Delmarter shortly after graduating from high school.  She found him to be a nice man, who was slated to take over Nick’s barber shop.  The marriage proved to be short-lived.  However, with the help of Rodney’s sister, Zaphara obtained a job at Hyde’s Candy on 19th and East Mercer rolling candy canes.

She commuted to work in a faltering GMC truck which stalled frequently causing her to be late for work several times.  That ended the Hyde’s experience but Zaphara soon found work at Baker Candy, a small company run by Barbara and Ernie Baker in Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood.  Needing the job, Zaphara lied about her ability to hand dip chocolates, but learned the required skills quickly and eventually became production manager, even working the assembly line when her staff was not available.  Baker Candy had retail outlets at Buddy Squirrel Candy stores and sold wholesale to the five western states.  Although there were some problems, Zaphara is proud of her work there and left after 31 years in 1995, as a chocolatier.

10-at-tops-24-circa11-candelabra-dance-at-the-lebanon-restaurant-1980s12-zaphara-and-the-classic-sword-danceSampling candy with macadamia nuts, butter and cream resulted in some  weight gain for Zaphara who tried yoga, exercise and skiing as a means of losing some pounds.  When she saw an advertisement for belly dancing classes from the King County Parks Department, she contacted Shamiran Pick, the Persian instructor, thinking this might be something she could do.  At a belly dancing show at the Edgewater Inn Hotel she fell in love with the art.  Pick had 15 students learning belly undulation which Zaphara found almost impossible to accomplish.  However, when she went home and relaxed after a couple of drinks, she was able to master the skill! She continued with classes.

13-artists-painting-1977    14-lebanon-advertisement-late-1970s    15-pi-article-1979

In 1976, after six weeks of classes, her first time performing in front of an audience was at a Bellevue, Washington, festival to live Greek music by the Platenyas Brothers.  Later that same evening, when she danced at the Trojan Horse, a Greek-owned club, the compliments and applause from the audience had her “hooked” on the art.

From there she was dancing three nights a week at Tops 24 16-dj-robert-e-lee-hardwick-and-zaphara-at-monroe-speedway-circa-1978(see WALKING IN WORK) and Costas House of Greece (see A CULINARY PHILOSOPHER) and continued with lessons for the next ten years with Shamiran.  She performed at The Lebanon for the next year and a half, then at George’s Bar and Grill owned by George and Becky Tramountanas for five years with Greek and Arabic live music. In 1978 she traveled to Egypt where she attended workshops, learned to dance with a candelabrum on her head and shared experiences with the crew of the television show 20/20.  She was with the crew for a week filming for a bellydancing special and contest in which she came in third.  She began teaching belly dancing at the Renton and West Seattle16-b-zaphaa-with-mayor-charlie-royer-1980s YMCAs, then at Shorecrest High School, Shoreline Community College and, every Tuesday evening for the past 24 years at the Phinney Neighborhood Center.

With the decline of Greek dinner clubs in Seattle, she has performed at Arabic and Moroccan restaurants including the Casbah and for 10 years at Yannis Greek Restaurant in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood.  Since 2001 she has performed with The Red Elvises, a Siberian rock-and-roll group, and continues to perform at the Northwest Folklife Festival.

Zaphara’s mother never learned of her daughter’s belly dancing, and Zaphara went to great lengths to make sure Alexandra did not find out.  On one occasion, where her mother’s friend was present at a performance, Zaphara swore the friend to secrecy.  The secret was kept.

18-zaphara-and-chai-taken-by-joseph-scalea1989In 1989 Zaphara and her friend Angie Karalis were planning for a fund-raising event at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.  The event would feature photographs by the award-winning northwest artist, Josef Scaylea.  The plan was to obtain some entertainment and they went to Canlis Restaurant where Jerry Zimmerman played piano.  When they learned Zimmerman was at Casanova’s Cabaret in north Seattle, they went there and were pleased when he agreed to contribute his talents for the event.  Then, Charles “Chai” Ahrenius, who Zaphara mistook for the manager of Casanova’s and who was dressed in a white tuxedo, came by and said to Zaphara, “great legs lady.”   As a result of the visit Chai and Zimmerman, with a group of professional opera singers, provided entertainment for the three-week Scaylea event where Zaphara performed her classic dance balancing a candelabrum on her head while dressed in a black sequined baladi dress.

Also Seattle-born, Chai and Zaphara became fast friends and have 17-zaphara-and-chai-1989-1now been together since 1989.  Chai, a professional baritone, began his career at the age of 19 and performed with the Seattle Opera for seven years.  He currently performs with “Fortissimo” (Seattle’s three tenors) among other groups.  He also has a Greek connection as his father was good friends with Harry and Evie Rigas, long-time Seattle residents.  He and Zaphara continue to entertain.  Zaphara bellydances and Chai sings a combination of operatic and popular Italian songs.  Their friend Jerry Zimmerman accompanies Chai and also provides easy listening music for the audience.

Chai is also a veteran bus driver for King County METRO Transit and, when Zaphara was about to leave Baker Candy, METRO was hiring.  Zaphara applied, passed all the required examinations and, with Chai’s training and assistance, began a probationary year with METRO.  She has since retired after 22 years of driving with no accidents and Chai will soon complete his 38th year.  Occasionally, fans will recognize their belly-dancing bus driver, but Zaphara keeps it “low key.”

Zaphara is proud of her Greek heritage and culture and that she does not have a variety of ethnicities.  On one occasion while visiting in Turkey, she had to deny her heritage in a very uncomfortable situation.   19-zaphara-and-chai-with-scalea-photograph-2016Although restrained by a very protective mother, she is grateful not to have married early and simply raised children and chickens.  Rather, her spirit as a zizanio (pest or irritant) has enabled her to follow her passions of dancing, traveling, snorkeling and writing.  She has used the art form of dance not only for her own enjoyment but to pass on to others.    For Zaphara, life is a banquet.  She advises young people not just to do what you are told to do but to expand or even deviate from the norm.  She feels fortunate to still be dancing, instructing and sharing her stories with others.   And, “I have a wonderful man who puts up with me.”

By John and Joann Nicon, January 2017
1 Zaphara, 2016
2 Nick’s naturalization paper, 1943
3 Nick’s passport, 1947
4 Alexandra’s passport, 1947
5 Nicolas and Alexandra, 1940s
5a Barber shop business card
6 Nick in his barber shop, 1970s
7 Zaphara as a baby
8 Nicolas, Alexandra and Zaphara, 1950s
9 Zaphara, circa 1965
10 Dancing at Tops 24, 1970s
11 Candelabra dance at the Lebanon Restaurant, 1980s
12 Zaphara and the classic sword dance, various dates
13 Oil painting by D. Cook, 1977
14 Lebanon advertisement, late 1970s
15 Seattle Post Intelligencer article, 1979
16 Disc Jockey Robert E. Lee Hardwick and Zaphara at Monroe Speedway, circa 1978
16b Zaphara with Mayor Charlie Royer, 1980s
17 Zaphara and Chai, 1989
18 Zaphara and Chai, 1990s
19 Zaphara and Chai with Scaylea photograph, 2016
Photos 1 and 19 by John Nicon; 17 by Josef Scaylea; all others from Zaphara’s collection
Video interview by John and Joann Nicon, May, 2016
Interviews by Andria Alessandra Green at