Pandemic uncertainty affecting folk dance groups negatively

Dance Festival rehearsal at Kalev Stadium. July 4, 2019.
Dance Festival rehearsal at Kalev Stadium. July 4, 2019. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Folk dancers are already preparing for the youth song and dance festival in 2023. While teachers are trying to maintain the dancers' level of skills, restrictions and distance learning seems to affect interest negatively.

The youth song and dance festival, initially planned for 2022, was postponed for one year and will take place in June 2023 due to the pandemic. This is in addition to the General Song and Dance Festival taking place in 2025, ETV's "Aktuaalne kaamera" reported on Sunday.

Tallinn Dance Academy artistic director Märt Agu said several dance festivals and county celebrations have been postponed or moved around on the calendar. "We are in a situation today, where we do not have a clear direction, because many are quitting. This is not only seen in the capital city, but in further locations, as well," Agu said.

Sirle Arro, a dancer, told ERR that dance celebrations are a critical form of expression for dancers and trainers alike. Another dancer, Madis Lepp, told ERR that trainings have become more rare and cancelling practices due to restrictions or the spread of the coronavirus has become a common sight.

Tallinn French Lyceum folk dance club Leesikad teacher Kristiina Siig said they have more dancers than ever as recent results in competitions has boosted popularity.

For a period, dance groups could only practice outdoors. On the one hand, the children got out into the fresh air, but on the other hand, it is hard to hone your technique without mirrors. That is not to mention trying to teach someone to dance through a computer.

"There were many in basic school that did not come to Zoom practices. But when real practices came back, the students also returned. When we went back to Zoom, they did not follow. And then they did not come back a second time," Siig said.

Finding replacement dancers has also become an issue since unvaccinated dancers can not join their vaccinated partners until at least mid-January. "We find some dancers very quickly and sometimes, we do not find anyone at all. Either they do not blend in emotionally or they are lacking in their skills," Märt Agu said.

Restrictions and uncertainty could eventually make its way into dances, Agu said. There have to be eight women and eight men in dance groups for the dance festival, but if someone is consistently missing practices, it affects the entire performance.

"You cannot cancel practices, we will always give our best to maintain the level. But it will unfortunately go down if there are gaps and you have to dance with an imaginary partner," Agu noted.

Kristiina Siig said folk dance should perhaps have to adapt to the specificity of a coronavirus-riddled world, where trainers do not know if their group is together right until they are supposed to perform.

"Should it begin affecting our repertoire? Could it be danced with six pairs, seven pairs, five pairs or perhaps an uneven number of dancers? Those are the more likely questions. How will it affect our traditions in the long-term?" Siig said.


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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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