With a name like Lija, I frequently get asked how to pronounce it; where is it from, and blank stares usually follow when I say Latvian. When I was little, I always tried to avoid the explanation, but after over 30 years of answering this question, I have gotten it down!
Latvia, a country on the Baltic Sea, borders Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, and to the east is Russia. Latvians have great pride for their country, having only regained independence in 1991 after over 50 years of Russian control.
One of the big cultural events known to many American-Latvians is the Latvian Song and Dance Festival. Americans have been putting on these festivals around the country for over 40 years, alternating between the east and west coasts. The festival has been held in Latvia since the 19th century and continues to be an important cultural and social event.
The event in the U.S. usually lasts around 4 days and is held in metropolitan areas with many Latvian cultural activities being represented including singing, dancing, theater, and arts and crafts.
I have attended several festivals both as a spectator and participant, and the events truly are one of the best ways to ensure the Latvian traditions continue on in the United States for many years.
About 4 years ago, I participated in an event down in Ventura, CA with our dance group from San Francisco. We had groups representing cities from all over the U.S and a special appearance by a group from Latvia.
The costumes and music during the dance performances are very traditional and we ensure we pay close attention to stay true to our heritage.
Below is an action shot of our group dancing at the West Coast Latvian Song and Dance Festival in Ventura, CA. Girls typically wear long wool skirts, white blouses, vests and flowers or crowns on their head; guys wear wool pants, long jackets and belts. Each costume represents a specific region in Latvia (my costume, in front, comes from the Kuldiga region of Latvia).
Another shot of our group showing the variety in girl’s costumes.
To see a group from Latvia perform, check out the below video. This is the modern Latvian take on folk dance competition! The groups from Latvia perform regularly and the precise, energetic, almost theatrical qualities are quite noticeable! Honestly, I had never seen anything like it in all the years of attending these festivals.
The group from Latvia is pictured below performing at the festival in Ventura, CA.
The festivals held in Latvia are on a much bigger scale and performances are held in stadiums. This video is an example of the entertainment, spectacle and beauty that these events can be.
Latvian Folk dancing is truly a great expression of heritage, entertainment and culture and I can’t wait to attend another festival! The next U.S festival is being held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in July 2012 and in Riga, Latvia in the summer of 2013.