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Relay to dance

There is a new danger loose on highways of Estonia, guarded by special cars and safety-clad people as it roams across the land: from August 20 until August 28, 24h relay dancing makes participants and spectators meet at both odd and sensible hours.

Estonian singing festivals are well renown and sometimes have left dancing celebrations in a shadow. The first dance festival took place in 1934, 65 years after the first song festival. Named the Estonian Games, Dance and Gymnastics festival, 1500 folk dancers performed. Until today, there have been 18 dance celebrations and 11 Youth Dance Celebrations, recent years have featured both Women’s and Men’s Dance Celebrations.

First recordings about Estonian folk dances danced for merriment date back to 18th century, ritualistic dances get mentioned in the 19th century. Most village dances are about fun and are modified versions of popular dances from the region. Village dance evenings are often weekly and dances have many variances according to location and dancers. With 20th century came several functional changes: the role of local dance evenings decreased while professional dancer troupes took hold and dancing for performances was introduced, came first author dances and descriptions of dances and patterns. Tumultuous times separated peoples from their land, but not their songs and dances they had come to accept as part of their national identity.

Following decades established methods in folk dance development and teaching, structured dance festivals with themes and pleasing visual patterns, auditions and reviews for troupes and associations seeking participation in dance celebrations, agreement among teachers and innovation from visionaires, recognition of “own” style and temperament in dance compared to folk dances of other nations and at times, stylizing and modernizing folk dance, sometimes excessively.

With urbanization and drive to distance themselves from thatched roofs, many estonians once dropped folk dancing as a social dance option, leaving it a tool for more determined performers, leaving little room for common people on dance floor. That tide has been turning. With the average age of a waltz dancer at about retirement age and night clubs populated with prowling foreigners, folk dance is winning back ground. Who cannot or does not wish to join a folk dance group, can attend events where former village and folk dances are a part of the program (festivities at Estonian Open Air Museum, Night Dance, folk dance clubs’ evenings, local events and so on). Asdance festivals are carefully coreographied and timed, they have little left of organic bustle and socializing that once was the centerpiece of social dances. The effort from dance clubs is, therefore, all the more appreciated: they provide places where a first-timer can go, without a parner and spend a great evening at a workout that can easily put aerobics and fitness classes to shame. Interacting with real people and dancing to live music gives the experience urban dwellers do not come by very often and public events help to keep that in mind.

Relay dance circles Estonia, beginning and ending in Tallinn Old Town, Town Hall Square. The path links the land via it’s people a story weaved as if the national patterned sash. More than 6200 dancers from over 450 dance groups constantly dancing will contribute to making that interlocking pattern throughout 1000 kilometers of passing on the baton. It is a part of Tallinn – Culture Capital 2011 project with the idea of uniting all the counties with Tallinn to celebrate it and the part the folk dance plays in Estonian culture and traditions.

Of all the roadside impediments of 2011, this is by far the most entertaining.

Further information:
Relay Dancing homepage – http://www.teatetants.ee/mainpage
Relay Dancing online – http://teatetants.ee/gps
Route map – http://teatetants.ee/admin/upload/image/kaart1.jpg.JPG
Estonian Traditional Music Centre upcoming events – http://www.folk.ee/en/Syndmused
Estonian Folk Dance and Folk Music Association – http://www.errs.ee/index.php?id=10398

About Kristi Promet