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The Estonian folk dance world has never seen anything comparable over its last century of existence.
This past summer’s Folk Dance Celebration themed “Meri” (English ...“The Sea”) left hundreds of people standing behind the gates due to lack of seats in the stadium. It did not matter that the same concert was performed on three occasions. People were shocked – this is impossible?
The Dance Celebration is similar in scale to the Olympic Opening Ceremonies with over 7500 dancers performing on the big field at once. As recent as the turn of the millennium, it was believed that Folk Dance Celebrations would need to be dropped from the Song-and-Dance Festival scene due to lack of audiences. Nevertheless, folks had different opinions and the crowds came to the Folk Dance Celebration. There were not enough seats even after rows of bleachers were added at the last minute before the concerts.
In past year three of Estonia’s leading folkdance groups – Leigarid, Kuljus and Tartu University Folk Ensemble – have celebrated their anniversaries with large scale concerts. There were doubts that a folkdance concert would fill up 1800 seats at the prestigious Nokia Concert Hall at Solaris Center in Tallinn or at the Vanemuine Theatre in Tartu.
This summer’s men-only folkdance festival in Rakvere is close to being sold out and it is only early spring. The Man’s Folkdance Festival has attracted dancers from among the prominent people of Estonia - all the way to the government.
The women dancers have now announced their “own” dance festival.
What‘s up with all this?
As of today, the “Kaerajaan going to Europe” campaign is approaching 10,000 participants who have joined this crazy idea. This popular folkdance has been danced not only in Estonia and Latvia, but even in the USA. When the campaign was announced on Facebook, it took only 24 hours to get 100 members from 12 countries.
Folk dance teachers can tell you of the interest in folk dancing among teenagers - a trend very unbelievable in the recent past.
Professor Marju Lauristin said the prophetic words a year ago as she described the human development of a depression era. She stated that “During a depression, the real values will surface”.
As the result, it is a pleasure to see that the folkdance teachers who have carried on with the Estonian folk traditions throughout the years and taught folk dance in cold and small rooms, while being compensated just pennies, will see that their work has value.
It is also my pleasure to see the tens of thousands of folk dancers, whose senseless jumping has been compared to that of a ridiculous country boy, know that their dancing has cultural value.
And thirdly, as a person of Finno-Ugric ancestry, I am aware of the inferiority complex of our people as we think that folk dancing, regi songs and Kaerajaan are not worthy to be called a culture.
We have a tendency to think that culture is where we are not. The Irish had to be ashamed of their Step Dances and the Finns of their Jenka dance before they believed that these had real value.
Thanks to the depression, we Estonians can see these changes in our beliefs and self worth - the true acceptance of our values.

Rein Sikk / Eesti Päevaleht Daily
Translation by Tiina Oviir and Don Vendetti

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