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Pillerkaar Windmills 4 14 18a

Lithuanian Hall, Baltimore, MD April 14, 2018


A dancer spins, skirt swirling. Her partner takes her hand to waltz. Supporting each other, the pair forms a circle with three more whirling couples. The melding of individual emotion with group cohesion. 


The same steps in an old pattern to a beloved melody, all made new. Pillerkaar Estonian Folk Dancers cherish this exhilarating mix of the past, the immediate moment, and promise of the future. Still, the 2018 Windmills International Dance Festival on Saturday, April 14 at the Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore, Maryland brought something even more. 


Dedicated to the Centennial of Baltic Independence, the festival concluded with performances 

by Pillerkaar, the Estonian folk dance group, the Namejs Latvian folk dance group, and the Malunas Lithuanian folk dance group. 


The finale was a moving salute to the Baltic Chain of  August 23, 1989, with the Baltic dancers holding hands and swaying as one to the Baltic Hymn "Atmostas Baltija, Bunda Jau Baltija, Ärgake Baltimaad" ("Wake Up, Baltic States") sung by soloists in Latvian, Lithuanian, and Estonian. Many in the audience also joined hands. To reach out and find the hand not of a customary dance partner, but a like-minded neighbor standing in solidarity, celebrating a century of independence, and supporting future achievements was unforgettable.


For its part, nine Pillerkaar dancers under the direction of Jeff Zelek performed the dynamic

Tule aga tule  (Come, oh Come and Dance);

the fast-moving Vanaviisi valss (Old-Style Waltz);

the flirtatious Külavalss  (Village Waltz);

the four-women and one-man comedic Jooksupolka (Running Polka);

Raaksi Jaak(an Estonian version of the Polish dance Krakowiak); 

the rousing Kungla polka(signature dance of Estonian folk dance group Kungla from Toronto);

Kalamies  (Fisherman);

and concluding with the traditional wedding song-/dance Tuljak. Earlier in the day, there were performances by The Nordic Dancers of Washington DC (Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish);

Carpathia (Macedonian, Gypsy, Romanian, Ukrainian); Alpine Dancers (Austrian, German, Swiss); Tisza Ensemble (Hungarian); Ojczyzna Polish Dancers (Polish); and Kalinka Dance Ensemble of Baltimore (Russian, Ukrainian, Moldovan, Finnish).


So how did such an amazing and unique festival, in its third year, come to be? Impressively, the answer is in part to the vision of Anu Oinas, the Pillerkaar director from 1971 to 2016. Looking for a way to encourage more young Estonians to dance, Anu in 2006 proposed that Pillerkaar throw an old-style Estonian farm party with haystacks and fiddle music and invite all the East Coast Estonian dance groups (after all, Pillerkaar means merry-making or revelry). Pillerkaar named the event IREKS (Ida-Ranniku Eesti Küla Simman)  (East Coast Estonian Village Soiree) and

spent the next year learning dances, looking for a venue and lodging, making flyers, contacting dance groups, identifying a string band, getting catering, making T-shirts, and hand making party decorations. 


The first IREKS was held in Reston, Virginia, attracting more than 500 people and featured Estonian crafters and food. Unfortunately, the Estonian folk dance groups in Toronto, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, Connecticut, and Lakewood had all disbanded by 2005. So Anu reached out to the Latvians and Lithuanians from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and DC metro area, and as a special treat, Anu also invited Kandali, a prominent dance group from Tallinn. 


At Anu's request, David Pivorunas, a Lithuanian who had danced with Pillerkaar in the past, pulled together a lively Baltic String Band of Lithuanians, Latvians, and Estonians. The day after the first 2007 IREKS Festival of dancing, Priit Vesilind hosted performers and friends at his spectacular home on the edge of the Occoquon River with Estonian potluck, kayaking, canoeing, dancing, and a roaring and romantic Jaanituli (bonfire to celebrate the longest day of the year). The Lithuanians filled the woods with song as they made beautiful wreaths out of oak tree leaves to wear while dancing around the fire, and then kept until thrown in the next year's Jaanituli for good luck. 


Since it was so successful, Pillerkaar held another IREKS in 2008 and a final IREKS in 2010, both at the Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore. The Lithuanians were also interested in keeping Baltic traditions alive, so they decided to rejuvenate Baltic dancing at the Lithuanian Hall in April 2016 with the first Windmills festival. Pillerkaar has performed there every year since then. 


Several upcoming Pillerkaar events include the NATO Festival Parade of Nations and International Village in Norfolk, VA on April 28; Embassy Open House Day at the Estonian Embassy in Washington, DC on May 12; Around the World Cultural and Food Festival on the National Mall in Washington, DC on June 16; and a special joint event with all three Baltic Embassies in Dupont Circle in Washington on June 23. 


The Events page at more details on all of these events as well as pictures and videos of Pillerkaar’s most recent events! Visit the Pillerkaar website for history, pictures, events from the past and contact information:


Anu Oinas


Atmostas Baltija, Bunda Jau Baltija,

Ärgake Baltimaad 

("Wake Up, Baltic States")


Kolm õde mere palge ees,

neid uinutas lainete laul.

Kolm rahvast siin sajandeid heideldes

tõid ohvriks muistse au.

Kui tornides juba lööb kella hääl,

merd haarab vabaduspüüd.

Et saatust ja elu kaitseda,

kolm õde virguvad nüüd.


Ärgake Baltimaad,

ärgake Baltimaad,





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