In commentary on ERR's Vikerraadio earlier this week, journalist Rein Sikk reflected on those who officially did not make the cut to perform in the XX Dance Festival this summer, and whether the road to Estonia's world-famous festival must be lined with tears at all. One solution that could see everyone included was already demonstrated by youth dancers in a public square in 2017.
4,601 people across Estonia feel pretty lousy right now. They did not make the cut for the Dance Festival; they will not get the chance to dance at Tallinn's Kalev Stadium. The number of people shut out of the festival is greater than the population of Põltsamaa or Paldiski. One third of those who auditioned for the festival did not make the cut. One third.
When I published a call on Maaleht's online news portal last week for people who didn't make the cut to reach out, to write about their thoughts and their feelings, I had no idea what to expect. I got over a hundred responses in the form of letters and comments. The majority of these letters were brimming over with sadness, and disappointment, but first and foremost bewilderment.
It's not about the fact that some dance better. It's about the fact that those who dance a bit worse should, along with their rejection, also be given an analysis of their work as well as their score. Like a letter grade in school. But all they receive is a "No." It is only natural that this would anger you and make you cry.
Even one is too much
The effort put into competing for a spot in the Dance Festival is comparable to a marathon. But there is a crucial difference — regardless of how they placed, everyone who participates in a marathon feels like a winner. Even very much so. But that isn't the case for everyone participating in the Dance Festival process. What are we lacking, then?
In the background, all I can hear is the voice of Grand Old Man of Folk Dance Kristjan Torop. His explanation from decades ago that for such a small people, even one person being left out of the Dance Festival in tears is a huge loss. Both for our people as well as our folk culture. The festival has to be organized in such a way that even those who do not earn prime spots on the field are still happy, and are still proud of how far they've come.
Unfortunately, I have heard festival organizers repeat for decades that tears and being left out of the festival are an inevitable inevitability. There is nothing one can do but say no to thousands. Because space at Kalev Stadium is limited.
It's not possible that there is nothing one can do!
Our people invented Skype, Transferwise, and Taxify. It was only recently that people thought that long-distance calls could not be made for free. That international wire transfers couldn't be made without earning banks a profit. That the taxi crisis could not be resolved. But it could be done!
Nowadays we just need to think outside the box. We need to approach this with an open mind and from a different angle, in order to ensure that the keepers of our traditional dance culture are compensated justly for their efforts even if they don't fit in Kalev Stadium. That is what 4,601 people who did not make the cut for the Dance Festival are waiting for. That they, too, can feel like winners, not losers. Song Festival committee, do something innovative, 21st century-style!
Chance for everyone to take part
We actually already have a solution that would help dry these tears and make many people happy — we were shown how by participants in the last Youth Dance Festival [in 2017]. After a stadium performance was canceled due to the cold and rain, they managed to get an incredible festival together at Freedom Square instead. Such that both the dancers and the delighted public alike ended up satisfied. This spontaneous dance festival, organized in a matter of mere hours by the youth dancers themselves, continued to attract high praise for months to come.
Right now, we have a month and a half to repeat their triumph. To invite everyone who didn't make the cut to dance at Kalevi Stadium to dance at Freedom Square instead. To show a live broadcast from Kalev Stadium on big screens behind their dancing.
Both the dancers who could still dance their dances together with their troupe as well as those who didn't manage to get tickets to Kalev Stadium but would still get a chance to experience the Dance Festivals would all be winners in this scenario. And if it seems like not everyone would fit in Freedom Square, Town Hall Square, for example, would be open to dancers as well. The main thing is wanting and believing that anything is possible.
I believe and I know that one day, no matter what, courageous ideas will triumph. And someday we will reach the point where the road to our Song Festival, one of the most important shapers of Estonia's image, will be lined not with tears, but with smiles.
Editor: Aili Vahtla