2019 Dance Festival hopefuls struggling to meet folk costume requirements

Organisers of the 2019 Song and Dance Festival are going to be much stricter about the folk costumes worn by dancers at next summer's dance festival.
Organisers of the 2019 Song and Dance Festival are going to be much stricter about the folk costumes worn by dancers at next summer's dance festival. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Thousands of Estonian folk dancers are currently working hard to prepare for the pre-selection round to begin in January, as space on the field is limited and not all folk dance troupes will qualify for the 20th anniversary Dance Festival next summer. This year, however, festival organisers are cracking down on the authenticity of dancers' folk costumes, which means makers of Estonia's national dress are especially busy trying to fulfil all the extra orders in time.

Maido Saar's "Selle metsa taga" ("Behind This Forest") is the dance currently being learned by Märjamaa's co-ed folk dance troupe Hopsani, one of Rapla County's most famous troupes. For historical reasons, the Märjamaa group does not own folk costumes from their local parish, and will be heading to the Dance Festival in Juuru folk costumes instead. Nonetheless, they have been working for the past decade to supplement and update their performance costumes.

"In the women's case, we began with the short blouses, for example," Hopsani dancer and secretary Liina Karotamm. "Currently being made are the women's skirts. In the meantime, we have renewed their belts. All of this one little bit at a time. If we wanted our own, proper Märjamaa folk costumes, then we would have to replace the entire set, and that would be a very.... very big effort."

The all-women's folk dance troupe Lilleke, from the Viljandi County village of Võhma, will be performing in Pilistvere folk costumes. Merilin Metsatsirk divides her time between a total of 11 folk dance troupes, five of which are gunning for spots in next summer's Dance Festival. Not all of these troupes have folk costumes yet, however.

Plenty of folk costume orders to go around

"One troupe is still making clothes for themselves," Metsatsirk said. "They currently have loaner folk costumes, but we're trying to get our own, totally new clothes by the festival. Support is offered, but the own contribution still has to be pretty big."

59 dance troupes are hoping to make the cut for the 2019 Dance Festival in Viljandi County alone. As the folk dance tradition is strongly grounded there, most already long since have the right clothes.

"We have a few individual groups that are currently new, and they are working on obtaining folk costumes for themselves," said Anneli Kundla, folk culture specialist for Viljandi County.

Makers of folk costumes, meanwhile, are swamped with work, as folk costumes will be assessed at next spring's folk dance qualifiers as well. While the strong felt needed to make the necessary men's hats and quality yarn needed to weave the colorful striped material used to make women's skirts may be difficult to find in Estonia, folk costume makers are putting in the effort to ensure that the results are as authentic as possible. The material for the men's hats, for example, is currently being sourced from the Czech Republic.

"There is a lot of work, and I am currently working on boys' and men's trousers and sweaters for Vändra," said Viljandi County folk costume maker Eve Soopa. "In the queue are also Vastsemõisa girls' skirts and Pilistvere women's short coats." And all of them need to be completed in time.

Expensive requirement

Despite the fact that a new full Estonian folk costume can cost around €1,000, if not more, the organisers of the jubilee Dance Festival next summer will not back down on their requirement that all dancers have proper, authentic folk costumes.

"By authentic we actually mean that the costumes worn by the dancers are from one parish — this means that the headdress, apron, skirt, short blouse as well as blouse are all those of one parish," explained Vaike Rajaste, chief choreographer of the XX Dance Festival "My Love."

She noted that they have been asked if a troupe can substitute a short sweater in lieu of a long coat, for example, but added that those who want to perform in the festival have no doubt sought as well as found opportunities for borrowing folk costumes from other troupes. "Because there are also many places where the folk costumes have just sat there because there are no more dance troupes."

Many folk dance troupes have received assistance from their local governments, private businesses, the Leader programme as well the Cultural Endowment of Estonia in procuring folk costumes ahead of the Dance Festival. Some troupes have also earned extra money for the expensive costumes by performing.

The XXVII Song Festival and XX Dance Festival will take place on 4-7 July 2019. The Song Festival will also be celebrating its 150th anniversary.

The new, stricter requirements on folk costumes do not apply to singers in the Song Festival.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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