International Dance Day

Happy International Dance Day!  

Celebrated each year on April 29th, International Dance Day was initiated by the International Dance Committee of the UNESCO International Theatre Institute in 1982. This year is especially noteworthy as it is the 40th anniversary!  

“The intention of the International Dance Day Message is to celebrate dance, revel in the universality of this art form, cross all political, cultural and ethnic barriers, and bring people together with a common language – dance.” – International Theatre Insititute  

Estonians and Latvians have a deep love for song and dance. From learning simple folk dances at summer camp, to performing with thousands on the world stage at dance festivals, even just dancing in your living room, dance is for everyone of all ages to enjoy.

Here are some photos and stories from our staff and community members about their experiences dancing.  

“Folk dancing has always been a huge part of my life in the Toronto Estonian community. Some of my first childhood memories are of sitting and watching my parents’ folkdance practices with my sister and cousin, when I was just three years old. My parents got to know each other through dancing in Kungla, where they both danced and taught since their teen years, so you might say that my sister and I come by our love of folkdance honestly. Since those earliest folkdance memories, there have been hours and hours of dancing in the kitchen at home, at grandparents’ birthday parties, and of course at the Estonian House, Tartu College, Jõekääru, Kotkajärve… the list goes on!  

Folk dancing has brought me so much joy throughout my life. I have met countless friends both near and far, have had the chance to travel to perform in North America, Sweden and Estonia, and have had the chance to share Estonian culture here in Toronto as well. But besides the social aspects of folk dancing, the act of dancing itself is a huge part of this joy! We often say during Kungla practices that “Rahvatants cures all!” whether that be a grumpy mood, a headache or some tense muscles. We always leave dance practices and performances in a better mood than when we came (even if we were already in a great mood at the start)!  

For several years, I taught the Kungla children’s folkdance group on Tuesday nights. We danced in the Estonian House Noorteruum (Youth Room) above the credit union offices. I would pop by the credit union after dance practices to apologize for the inevitable stomping of little feet upstairs. (Which, of course, was always met by reactions of “it’s lovely to hear the kids dancing and having fun!”). My folkdance kids would also often come to practice with their pockets full of little fruit-flavoured candies, having popped up for a quick visit to the credit union. On vastlapäev (Shrove Tuesday), they would show up with the tell-tale signs of whipped cream and powdered sugar on their cheeks, having been up to the credit union to get a vastlakukkel (Shrove Tuesday bun) before coming to dance. (Ok, I would head over and get one myself as well.)” –

Elin M. (NBCU staff member at the Estonian House branch) 

“Kungla has been a fun and active way for the girls to connect with their Estonian roots. Plus, it’s so cute to see the younger kids perform, whether at Eesti Maja or at the Distillery [Christmas Market].” – Paul S.  

“Kungla, aside from the joy of dance gave me precious lifelong friends. Many hours, days and even weeks were spent practicing, performing and traveling to share our love of dance with other Estonians all over North America and Europe. Shared experiences forge strong bonds.” 
  -Kati M. 

“When you ask the question of the importance of participating in Estonian folk dancing, so many thoughts come to mind. First is the social aspect. By coming together to dance, many have developed strong, lifelong friendships and even many marriages. Another is learning to dance and develop rhythm. Have you ever been to a social event or a wedding that ends with “perekonna valts” (family walts)? You know exactly who has or has not gone to folk dancing. Those that have, glide through the dance with ease. Such a pleasure! 

Estonian folk dancing is an activity that can be enjoyed by all ages. In some smaller Estonian communities, both, the young and the more mature are needed to make up their dance troupe. Finally, the chance to travel and perform for other Estonian communities (Chicago, Baltimore, LA, Buffalo, Boston) links us together as Estonians. Once again, helping develop new friendships and bonds which may not have developed because of distance. Through invitations to perform at various events, we’ve been given the opportunity to introduce Estonian folk dancing to our local communities and other cultures. Pure joy and tremendous pride!” – Ester K. 

At the Latvian summer high school Garezers in Michigan, celebrating the end of our yearly concert with my friends. – Darija G. (NBCU staff member at the Latvian Centre branch) 

During the 2018 “gājiens” in Rīga where we walked with more than thirty-five thousand (35,000) dancers and singers for an old tradition to mark the start of the folk singing and dancing festival. – Darija G. 

At the most recent song and dance festival in Toronto – Baiba A. (NBCU staff member at the Estonian House branch) 

Thank you to everyone for sharing their stories with us! We hope today everyone can find a moment or two to get up and dance!  

Author: NorthernBirchCU

A co-operative financial institution based out of Toronto, Ontario.

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