Saare Vikat, meie New Yorgi rahvatantsurühm, on viimastel aastatel puudutanud palju inimesi meie kogukonnast. Soovin oma vaatenurgast Teile meie lugu esitada. Kuigi olen proovinud parimas kirjakeeles seda esile tuua, eks leidub mõni viga. Palun andestust nende eksimuste ja eelarvamuste eest, mida oleks võinud paremini esitada. Neljaosalises sarjas on siin esimene etapp. Nautigem!
The Start and Build to EV100
September 2017 – February 2018
Saare Vikat had been running well before “the big turnout”, that’s just where our group’s journey began … It was the summer of 2017. Word was spreading through the up-and-coming generation that Lili Põldmäe would be joining forces with Liisi Vanaselja in an effort to pump new blood into the veins of Saare Vikat.
It worked. Lili had been active at Suvekodu, Lakewood’i laager, Baltimore Eesti kool, and through other Esto events. The ties between herself and the up-and-coming generation were strong.
1 became 2 became 4 became 8. By the first gathering, with some Saare Vikat veterans in attendance, it had so become the “in” thing to be joining Saare Vikat that our numbers overwhelmed those of past practices and were arguably the largest of any North American Estonian folk dance group in recent history.
The first few practices began with an acknowledgement of the newfound enthusiasm (40+ in attendance), followed by a discussion of Saare Vikat, making it to Eesti, and any upcoming events or action items.
These talks then flowed into a Zumba-style warm up, right on into a very loose, inclusive review of “standard” Estonian introductory dances (Oige ja Vasemba, Kaera Jaan, etc.) instructed by Lili.
The turnout and energy of Saare Vikat reborn was extraordinary from the start. And while our first few gatherings were less about practice and more about getting together and having a good time, we had to start somewhere.
In response to being asked to perform for EV100, Saare Vikat started 2018 with a higher level of focus and intention.
Our January and February practices focused on learning, reviewing, and fine-tuning “Reinlender”, “Meremeeste Valss”, and “Tuljak”. The fact that we were going to be performing in front of a live audience for the first time as a group, forced us to work toward performance-readiness, with more of a focus on quality.
While those that performed in Connecticut were able to do just a brief run through the morning before and perform without a hitch, the group that was to perform in NY was less experienced (up to that point) and required more preparation.
This group of 4-5 pairs took a wintry trip down to Maryland, as an additional practice, and got a feel for hitting a “higher gear” and catching some of the intricacies involved in performing.
In addition to their Maryland practice, the NY performance group practiced at the Community Church (on 35th St in Manhattan), St. Vartan park, and finally in the front entryway of the New Yorgi Eesti Maja the morning of their EV100 (Vabariigi Aastapäev) performance.
The preparation paid off, as the group swept the audience up with their contagious energy and left the stage to a standing ovation.
While gathered for dinner and drinks that night, past Saare Vikat members shared their thoughts on our performance and how we might improve as a group.
There remained plenty to progress upon, but that day marked the start of something special, the start of a string of performances and an ever-raising bar for this group of Saare Vikat.
II Coasting and Back to Earth
March 2018 – October 2018
After our Vabariigi Aastapäev performance, we got back to work. Past dancers and instructors had noticed that our footwork and posture needed some love. “Tuljak” lacked a hüplev polka, “Meremeeste Valss” lacked a real waltz hold and step, and our overall dancing lacked proper footwork and posture.
We had been sloppy and flat-footed, and it was time to tighten and re-visit the details.
Enter Mari Teedla. Her background in dancing, including instruction of the last large Saare Vikat group to go to Eesti, meant that she had the pedigree and attention to detail that our group needed to fine-tune and take the next step. She pulled no punches at that practice in Lakewood as we reverse engineered some of the defining features of the Saare Vikat in year’s past and started to rebuild the Saare Vikat of present.
We spent that entire Saturday working through (some of) the minutaie involved in “Tuljak” and “Meremeeste Valss”, and it gave the group a greater awareness and appreciation for the level of depth that could go into practicing each dance. Being that this happened to be our first practice at the Lakewood’i Eesti Maja (as well), we didn’t know what to expect. The space and level of accomodation were incredible. The fact that we were provided meals and a place to sleep meant the world to the broke students and distant travelers amongst us.
We met a couple of times over the course of the next couple of months and maintained a fairly loose practice regiment, as we focused on improving the dances we had learned up to that point in preparation for a Jaanipäev performance in Long Island. Fast forward to Jaanipäev, and what had been a beautiful day of volleyball, swimming, and BBQ’ing, was capped off with …
The sun playing peek-a-boo behind the tree tops. Bleachers filled with eestlased. The day’s competitors waiting attentively for this foreign dance troop. And Saare Vikat wondering what would await on the horizon. Our pre-performance rehearsal had been disconcerting, but once we took to the real thing, we shined. Our enthusiasm mixed with the crowd’s enthusiasm and carried us right into the ignition of the Jaani tuli and an excellent midsummer’s eve celebration.
Shortly after Jaanipäev, we returned to the Long Island maa (Suvekodu) to learn “Kalamees”. We walked through the dance the night prior, practiced in sections early that Sunday, and integrated the dance into our performance routine just in time for what would be the crowning jewel of performances for us up to this point: Lakewood’i Eesti Mängud.
We overcame the nerves that are inevitable when stepping onto a stage in front of hundreds of people, and gave our best rendition of the routine we’d rehearsed. We opened with “Reinlender”, fi-gure 8’d through “Kalamees”, and ended heads high, arms open wide with “Tuljak”. It had been a powerful performance. Certainly our most significant to date. And while Saare Vikat hadn’t even been re-born for a full year, the positive reaction of the crowd gave our group a lot of confidence.
During the summer, emails floated amongst group members about a practice at Seedrioru (in Canada). A joint practice between Saare Vikat and Kungla, a rahvatantsu-grupp based out of Toronto. At first it looked like we might have a decent turnout, but as the date neared, more and more signed up. Upon our arriving in Canada, more than thirty Saare Vikat members had elected to make the 10+ hour drive.
Following a few getting to know you games, our Satur-day practice started with a heavy emphasis on sammud. We worked the steps over and over, took a lunch break, and continued working the steps before progressing through the sequences of the dance. We’d never done a dance as slow and complex as “Õhtu Labajalg”. By dinner we’d reached the closing sequence with minds blown and upper bounds re-defined.
Following practice, our night was filled with volleyball, saun, swimming, drinking and dancing. Some of us went to bed at a reasonable hour while others stayed up to the crack of dawn. For the second day of practice, Rauno (our instructor from Eesti) was there at 9am sharp (our start time) and less than half the dancers were on time. Once everyone was there, Rauno had us perform an extended, dizzying warm up routine. Maybe it was pu-nishment for disrespect or maybe it was another exercise in re-defining possibility. Regardless it was new.
After the warm up, we performed “Kalamees”, Rauno chuckled at what we’d thought was “good” and gave a laundry list of pointers for us to work on. Once “Kalamees”, a much simpler, quicker dance had been reviewed, we took lunch and returned our focus to “Õhtu Labajalg”. After a couple of afternoon hours, we got through the closing sequence, walked through the dance once more, and capped off our final practice session with 20 minutes of yoga / stretching in the grass.
Prior to heading to the airport that Monday, Rauno complemented all the pointers of the weekend with the following message: “You have a long way to go, but if you put in the work you will make it.”
Our trip to Seedrioru was incredibly special: learning the dances from the instructor himself, playing volleyball, taking saun, making new friends, and gaining a clearer understanding of what it would take to make it to Tantsupidu in Eesti.
Over the course of the weekend we learned that there would be 8 pairs in the segagrupp, 12 girls in the naiste grupp, and that “the bar was the bar” (there would be no special treatment for välis-eestlased). We returned to the States re-invigorated and with our sights and standards much higher than they had been. For the next couple of practices, a small group of us met the night before to review steps, our practice plan, and responsibilities. We thought that this little extra effort would help our chances.
Our first practice that fall was a night and day improvement over how things had been done up to that point. We did a “Rauno style” warm up and hours of footwork drills, before progressing through sections of “Õhtu Labajalg” in isolation.
We left practice feeling like we’d taken a major step, and this was continued at our second practice that fall. The sega- and naiste grupid had been defined, and the same emphasis on quality and attention to detail was maintained.
For our third practice that fall, Märt Agu guest instructed for Saare Vikat and Pillerkaar, a dance group from the Washington DC area. It was a weekend practice, where each session started ~9am with a fun, goofy warmup and ended ~8pm.
We focused on segatantsud on Saturday and naiste tantsud on Sunday. Märt consulted the dance notes in guiding the segagrupp and instructing the naiste grupp from ground zero.
While it was a fun weekend and another step on our journey, it also planted the seeds of divergence.