Review by Wangxiu Cheng
Did you know that Traditional Dance Forum of Scotland commissions and publishes reviews of trad dance events across Scotland and beyond? Following Meditarraneo, Cosmic Dance and Auld Lang Syne, this is the fourth review by our student-in-residence Wangxiu Cheng – an award-winning graduate of the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy. Wangxiu is currently undertaking her MSc studies in Dance Science and Education at Moray House School of Education and Sport, the University of Edinburgh.
It is 2023. Scotland. Chances are that you have raised your hands with excitement in a Ceilidh near you. But have you ever tried a Latvian Ceilidh?
On the last Friday night of February, the romantic and passionate atmosphere of a Latvian Ceilidh filled the entire Teviot Row House in Edinburgh. Organized by the Edinburgh-based Latvian folk dance group Dindaru Dandaru and LaTS, the University of Edinburgh Latvian Society, the Latvian Ceilidh offered a memorable experience to hundreds of attendees, including myself. We warmed up together, danced away, enjoyed authentic folk dance performances, sang Latvian folk songs, and ultimately ended with three of Scotland’s most popular Ceilidh dances.
It was during the Dancu dancing segment, that we were treated to 13 different styles of Latvian Ceilidh through a set of steps, spins, and leaps. Among them, my favourite was the Pankukas dance, where “pankukas” in Latvian stands for “pancakes” in English. Accompanied by humorous music, Pankukas left us with an aftertaste of joy and happiness.
It transpired that both Scottish and Latvian Ceilidh have a social aspect, where dancers strengthen relationships through physical and eye contact and share common interests. The Latvian Ceilidh appears to be set to more diverse musical rhythm and its dance moves grow livelier as they keep pace with the music.
As anticipated when Dindaru Dandaru took centre stage we witnessed some of the classic dances that they would perform at the national Latvian song and dance festival held every five years. In July 2023 Dindaru Dandaru is due to represent Scotland at this important event in Latvian culture and social life. As one of the Baltic song festivals, it is also on the list of the UNESCO Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2008.
The unique formation changes of Dindaru Dandaru performance left me frequently marvelling. Their show also reminded me of the Xinjiang Uyghur dance in China which just like the Latvian folk dance seems full of joie de vivre and youthful energy.
The differences between Latvian and Scottish culture are also reflected in the costumes. The ladies’ costumes in Latvian dance are distinct in their unique national style, with long trumpet skirts that appear richer and more colourful while spinning. Although the men’s costumes are simpler in style, mostly black, white and grey, they look quite elaborate during the brisk dance moves.
There were many familiar faces among those participating in the Scottish Ceilidh, which melted my heart. I overjoyed when the caller inserted “Enjoy your culture!” in the instructions. Dance conveys culture, expresses national feelings and beliefs, shares aesthetic choices and accumulation of culture and thoughts. The value of folk culture and entertainment is deeply inscribed in traditional dance.
Participating in various Ceilidh dancing is an excellent way to explore the diversity of dance styles and cultural traditions. Each Ceilidh dance evening is one of a kind, offering an opportunity to learn new dance steps, relish in different musical genres and immerse oneself in diverse cultural customs. Regardless of whether it is a Scottish Ceilidh, a Latvian Ceilidh, or any other form of Ceilidh dance, each event presents an occasion for individuals to unite, have a great time, and revel in the exhilaration of dancing in a fresh and thrilling manner.
I look forward to seeing more international folk and traditional dances presented in Edinburgh in the future, including at the annual Pomegranates Festival which had sprung last spring with exactly this mission. Dance is universal and brings people together across cultural and language barriers. It has the power to bring joy and excitement showcasing the beauty of different cultures.
I hope that more and more traditional dances from different parts of the world, including Latvia and China, will be shared and celebrated at this year’s Pomegranates 28-30 April 2023. I am delighted to learn that Karlis Caucis of Dindaru Dandaru is amongst the traditional dance artists to lead one of the twelve world dance workshops as part of Pomegranates Festival Day 1 on 28 April 2023 which will also be livestreamed for anyone who can’t make it to Edinburgh. Have you booked your ticket yet? Pay What You Can: https://linktr.ee/pomegranatesfest
Images and video by Wangxiu Cheng (centre above). Editorial support by Iliyana Nedkova