While Latvia is well-known as a country of singers (and Christmas markets, and beautiful nature), not everyone knows that Latvians have another special talent: folk dancing. Folk dancing in Latvia has its origins in the 17th-18th century, and was often done as a part of pagan traditions. The first Latvian Song Festival occurred in 1873, and from 1937 onward, folk dance was included as part of the festivities. Now many children and adults alike join folk dancing ensembles.
Evija Latkovska currently works as an English teacher at a secondary school in Riga, and agreed to tell us about her experience of folk dance in Latvia. Evija is a former dancer with “Vektors“, Riga Technical University’s folk dance ensemble.
When did you first start dancing?
I was two, I think. At least my mom says so. Whenever I heard music I started to dance, and [my] parents decided that would be an activity for their girl – to dance. I said that I would dance until that moment I can finally wear [a] long skirt, because as kids you usually have just short ones. So I said I will dance until the moment I get those long ones.
So you started young, and you kept dancing…
Yes, I kept dancing until 2005. I think I stopped for a year or a year and a half. I could not manage it with my work anymore. It was like tearing myself apart – should I work or should I dance?
What motivated you to start dancing again?
[Dance] is the thing that I identify myself with. I have [been] a high school student, [been] a University of Latvia student, I have worked in a couple of places, but I am a dancer of the Riga Technical University dance group “Vektors”. That’s who I am. And then I started to dance again. I danced until 2010.
How did you find “Vektors“?
When I danced back in my hometown, “Vektors” [would visit] us once a year for their dance camp. When I went to university,even though I was a student of the University of Latvia, I did not consider being a part of [the University of Latvia’s dance group]”Dancis”. Only “Vektors”. However, it was not easy. There were a couple of times I just went to the [dance studio] door, and I didn’t touch the handle! [I] turned away, went [back to my] dorm.
So it took some courage.
It did, because the level was also a different one. And knowing how [to do] all the double polkas and have the right palēciens – that was a different level. And yes, my mom helped. I stopped going to “Vektors” for a little while, but then my mom [met with a] girl who danced [with “Vektors”], and [the girl] asked “Why isn’t Evija coming to ‘Vektors’ anymore?” And it was a phone call. “What are you doing on Monday and Thursday evenings? I know you are not there!”
But eventually you kept going. What would you say to someone who’s considering trying folk dancing for the first time?
It’s certainly worth trying. Because it’s not only about dancing, it’s about a lifestyle. But then you have to be careful as well, because then [dance becomes] the most important thing. And if there is a rehearsal, you have to be there, you have this group responsibility. To have that whole spectrum of emotions, of possibilities, opportunities, everything, you have to be there.
What is your favorite dance?
You have young kids. Have you encouraged them to consider dancing?
My son’s sports teacher said “You should consider letting him dance in my dance group,” and it was like honey to Mom’s ears! But he [plays] football. And he does not consider dancing! And then we have a baby girl, she is two, and she is very cute when she tries to [put her hands on her hips], running around the flat, “Look Mommy, look Mommy, I’m dancing!” So maybe I can succeed with her.