Estonian Song and Dance Celebrations (also called as Song Festival and Dance Festival) are considered to be “as Estonian as it can get”. Those two individual festivals are usually seen as a “double event” and performers of both, singers and dancers, join for the celebratory parade starting in the Tallinn town centre and ending on the Song Festival grounds (Lauluväljak).
These days, it is rare to see young people honouring their roots and traditions, wearing folk costumes and dancing and singing the way their great grandparents once did. Given the small size of Estonian population and the fact we are more like the serious, calm and ponderous Nordic people than our more temperamental Slavic neighbours, Estonian Dance Celebration traditions are even more remarkable. Nevertheless, every few years, there we are again: thousands of dancers forming beautiful patterns in front of tens of thousands spectators.
- Estonian General Dance Celebrations (Dance Festivals) take place every 5 years
- In between the festivals, other dance events are held – Estonian Youth Dance Celebration
The history of Dance Celebrations
The first Estonian Games, Dance and Gymnastics festival, held in 1934, was a precursor of the present Dance Celebration. One and a half thousand folk dancers performed there.
The greatest Dance Celebration of all times (the 9th) took place in 1970 with over 10000 performers. By then there were different categories according to age, with performers from toddlers to seniors, the dancing veterans. The youngest dancer at this festival was 4 years old and the oldest 76! All the following festivals have had the optimal 8000 performers.
In the beginning of the 1960s, the number of youth choirs, orchestras, folk-dance groups and participants had increased to such a level that it became necessary to hold a separate event. So, it was decided that a Youth Song and Dance Celebration should be organised. The first was held in 1962 and the next celebration will be held in 2011.
The Dance Celebration is a complete performance with a specific theme. The dancers in their bright national costumes form several colourful patterns on the dance field. The dances itself are created especially for each individual Dance celebration, mostly by Estonian choreographers, but there are some traditional numbers, too. For instance the national dance „Tuljak“ is always a part of the repertoire. Another tradition is forming a contour map of Estonia on the festival grounds – an element usually built into a dance.
In November 2003, UNESCO declared Estonia’s Song and Dance Celebration tradition a masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Since the Dance Celebrations are so popular in Estonia, some alternative festivals have also been staged.
- Probably the most famous of them is the Estonian Men’s dance Festival, which was first held in 2006. It captured people’s imagination up and down the country, and the innovative approach it took has had a major influence on dance festivals ever since.
- The second Estonian Men’s dance Festival in 2010 was titled ‘elemental’
- In July 2011 there the first women’s dance festival will be held in Jõgeva town.