Mäetagused vol. 49


Imagining Communities: Tradition and Improvisation in Traditional Dancing Today

Sille Kapper

Key words: choreological analysis, community, identity, improvisation, traditional dance

The aim of this article is to show what is the living dance tradition in Estonia like, by whom and how traditional elements are used in spontaneous amusement dance situations. The main data have been collected by observant participation in 2010 at Viljandi Folk Music Festival where contemporarily arranged folk music was played and the audience was encouraged to dance. Based on the data, one can conclude that nowadays the traditional dance is very much improvisational and individual in fact, because usually the limits of the tradition are chosen by each dancer individually.

Dance as a culture-bound bodily means of communication is, however, an opportunity to identify with some groups of people sharing similar values and folklore. Looking at dance movements and performance styles, one can identify the dancers’ dance competencies and based on this, imagine communities with certain common background. In those imagined communities, entitled in the article as „dance club people“, „folk dancers“ and „active audience“, their traditions are invented in different ways, based on different movement materials deriving from the past. The „dance club people“ and „folk dancers“ share some repertoire but their overall performance style is rather different. The „active audience“ has no significant former experience in traditional dancing but this audience knows some widespread movement elements that are considered traditional among them. Some soloists with richer movement competencies belong to every community and some dancers move between different communities, adapting their dancing according to situations.

Today, traditional dancing is very much influenced by conscious learning through more or less organised, regular or irregular activities like dance clubs, stage folk dance groups, and festival workshops. Professional dance teachers and some musicians, especially interested in traditional dancing have taken an important role in disseminating the dance repertoire as well as performance styles. In dancers’ movement their dance learning past and background reveals.

Historically, traditional dancing in its entertainment function has been rather international, but the imagined community of Estonian folk dancers is distinguished by their rather conservative attitude, expressed in quite clear ideas about “our own” and “foreign” elements in dancing while dance club people or active audience do not prefer dances with longer local history. The identity of “folk dancers” seems to be more connected with an ideal culture, based on archival data about Estonians’ dancing (deriving mainly from in the end of 19th century) while the dancing behaviour of “dance club people” could be described as intended culture which is more flexible and open. This way, comparing the dancing of both communities, a reflection of continuous balance seeking of overall Estonian culture can be seen.

Openness also seems to be the main value of “active audience” whose dancing is based on every dancer’s individual movement memory. Core traditions that would be valued by community members are hard to determine in this case. If the “active audience” can be imagined as a community, the distinction from overall public comes from their interest towards folk music but not from special dancing competencies.

Nowadays, in most dancing events the improvisation is used but the level of improvisation – conservative, innovative or free – depends on individual values and decisions of dancers as well as the music, companions, place and space. Creative use of older traditions is the domain of small number of devoted enthusiasts. Generally, older traditions are unknown and their limits are not adhered to, because of the very tolerant overall cultural environment. Instead of local traditions, still inner rules of imagined communities can be noticed. Instead of limiting, traditions are rather used by individuals in the role of inspiration source.

Sources of the Ingrian dance lore and general picture of dances

Juha-Matti Aronen

Key words: Ingrian Finnish dance culture, quadrille, röntyskä, sources

The purpose of this article is to introduce different sources of information and materials available about Ingrian Finnish traditional dances. By comparing them it is possible to find out what and how was danced in Ingria. The second part of the article analyses the most typical dances and dance types. Information about the dances is collected and the research is conducted aiming at the reconstruction of dances so that they could be danced again by younger generations of Ingrian Finns.

Before the World War II, the Ingrian tradition was collected and published as a part of Finnish culture but after the war it was ignored for a long time. In addition to Finland, dances were published in Estonia and Karelia and some fieldwork was done among the Ingrian Finns who had moved to Sweden. In Ingrian tradition, singing and dancing are close together and that is why quite a lot of information about dances can be found in song publications. The most important researchers and writers are Asko Pulkkinen, Viola Malmi, Ingrid Rüütel, Pirkko-Liisa Rausmaa and Anneli Asplund.

Dance types in Ingrian tradition:

  1. Old metrical song dance in which old songs are performed by dancing in a chain, circle, lines or alone without partner. There is information about even younger dance elements as in contra dances to be used together with old metrical runo songs.
  2. Röntyskäs in Northern Ingria. In them two couples dance at the same time.
  3. Figures accompanied by new folk songs with rhymes. Other couples are standing in a circle and the dance grows clockwise as a progression.
  4. A few dances that have been popular all over Finland (weaving, couples dances) and ring games.
  5. Lancier quadrille and newer couples dances as Pas d’Espagne, Vengerka, Krakoviak and waltzes.
  6. Quadrille’s variants in Ingria are pretty similar to Northern Russian quadrille.

Folk dance hobby related culture and large festivals outside of Estonia

Angela Arraste, Iivi Zajedova, Eha Rüütel

Key words: continuity, Estonians abroad, folk dancing, major festivals, national culture

This article is primarily focused on the Estonians and how they have preserved their culture while living in both their home land and in foreign communities abroad. Estonian folklore is at the heart of Estonian culture. In the 20th century, it was used to maintain a sense of identity. One of the most powerful symbols of self-expression in Estonian history was folk songs and dance festivals.

Particularly impressive, maintaining the folk tradition, are the National Song and Dance festivals, held both in Estonia and by Estonians living abroad.

The early 20th century decades created the traditional culture that has been built upon over the years to result in what is today’s folk dance tradition. Even after the destruction of World War II, the people of Estonia, both geographically and living abroad remained a coherent whole, ensuring the continuity of the Estonian folk culture. Many dimensions and representations of the folk tradition are evidenced in the major festivals conducted in both Estonia and abroad.

Fiddlers and their manner of playing from Tori and Vändra parish in the early 20th century

Krista Sildoja

Key words: historic folk music, flat foot waltz, play manner, polka, folk fiddle music, folk fiddle play, research of fiddle music

The article gives an overview of the most well-known village fiddlers in Tori and Vändra parish, their repertoire, playing style and status as dance music players in the first half of the 20th century. This is one of the first efforts to try and describe Estonian traditional instrumental music from the inside so to say. First, the author learned to play the Estonian type of waltzes and polkas gathered from the local village musicians in her neighbourhood and used traditional method of learning by ear. Contact with the old fiddlers has been created artificially using the help of archive recordings dating back to the years 1936 and 1937. Following the personal experience of playing old fiddle tunes the author started transcribing and examining the tunes systematically.

At that time both solo and duo performances were recorded from Tori and Vändra fiddlers. Those recordings compile the research material for the present article and on the basis of the recordings it is possible to describe how the fiddlers played back then. Transcriptions give an insight to the approach to form of the music and playing technique used in the fiddle tunes. Briefly, the body of those characteristics can be called the manner of playing the description of which introduces the musical thinking of village fiddlers and the overall characteristics of the performed music.

What can be said to describe the traditional manner of playing based on the example of Tori and Vändra parish fiddlers? The districts of Tori and Vändra in the first half of the 20th century can be characterised by playing in fiddle duos. Compared to what was going on in Estonia of that time generally, it is not unique, because there were also fiddle duos elsewhere. What is special about Tori and Vändra duos is how they were played in. When playing in duos fiddlers used two different ways of playing. The first of them, one of the most characterising ones, is imitating bagpipe with fiddle, which was only used by Tori fiddlers. Imitating bagpipe is definitely one of the earliest of way of playing in terms of age in our old fiddle music. The other way of playing in duo performances is simple polyphony based on functional harmony.

Fiddlers made the melodies of Estonian type of waltzes and polkas more interesting and richer using polyphonic fiddle playing technique and embellishments of melody notes. They used embellishments (mordents and upbeats) when they “felt like it”. Such means make a piece of music airy and general impression of the playing technique rather masterly.

The structures of the analysed fiddle pieces are simpler and also of a rather surprising (and random) construction as compared to composed classical music. This is what makes the music under survey so exciting. Each piece offers something new and unexpected – prevalently the predictable and expected systematic thinking does not exist. In case of Estonian type of waltzes as well as polkas the most important idea is that the piece of music had a continuous metrum to support dancers in their dance. As a result of form analysis it appeared that different playthroughs of Estonian type of waltzes are freer in terms of their construction, or more improvised, polkas on the other hand are more stable. The dominant factor in the development of playthroughs proved to be the number of members in the performance. If it is a solo performance, the variations in different levels of form are more frequent than in case of a duo performance. It is also understandable as the co-play of at least two people requires previous agreement in approach to form.

The playing style in traditional music, as a form of music learnt by ear, is quite individual in each player. At the same time it can be observed that the playing styles of two players living close to each other generally do not differ significantly. The same can be seen in the analysis of the fiddle players’ playing styles in the present research. The playing styles of fiddle players who live close by and play together are more similar to each other.

Folk music and dancing on the coast of Kuusalu

Anneli Kont-Rahtola

Key words: ethnomusicology, folk dance, folk instrumental music, Kuusalu parish, music life in the village

This paper consist an analysis of the music and dances of Kuusalu coastal area culture during the first half of the 20th century. Kuusalu parish is known as one of the richest in the North-Estonian folk culture. About two hundred instrumental tracks and notations, mostly dance music, and hundreds of dance manuscripts have been collected from this region. The collected material is located mainly in the Museum of Estonian Literary in the department of the Estonian Folklore Archives, Estonian Theatre and Music Museum in the department of the Music. Content and quality of the dance recordings are essentially very different. They vary from full transcripts to more general descriptions if the dance is known or not. Recorded music and written materials from the archives are from the period of 1905–1938. My goal is to find out where, how much and what were the dances and instrumental pieces in Kuusalu parish. The data are presented by the villages. As a result, I got a versatile overview about the variation of the dances. It turned out that some villages had clearly different dance repertoires. In the villages where there were good musicians, there was also active dance culture. Comparison of both instrumental and dance music is essential to understand their development. This can be used as a tool to evaluate spreading and development of different folk music pieces.

Development of the term and conception of the traditional music in Estonia

Taive Särg, Ants Johanson

Key words: Estonia, music folklore, traditional music, folk music, Viljandi Folk Music Festival

In the 1990’s a new term pärimusmuusika (~‘traditional music’, literally ‘inheritance music’) has emerged in Estonia. The term was invented to stand for English traditional music, but its content is also close to world music, ethnic music, roots music and of course, to an older term rahvamuusika (‘folk music’). In the present study the development of the term pärimusmuusika will be analysed on the basis scholarly writings, journalese and memories of the authors. The theoretical basis for this analyse constitutes an idea that a term reflects a conception, so the changing terms indicate changes in music and its conceptualising.

The older term rahvamuusika ‘folk music’ emerged in the early 1900’s and stood for rural music texts developed in oral tradition. In the 1960–70’s under the influence of Anglo-American folk music revival started a “new folk music” style (called folkmuusika) in Estonia, it meant mainly songs with profound lyrics accompanied on acoustical instruments, firstly guitar. As there was lack of Estonian term for that music style, and also for English traditional, an Estonian composer and musicologist Valter Ojakäär offered the term pärimuslaul, -viis (~‘traditional song, melody’) in 1986.

The term pärimusmuusika put into circulation firstly as the title of the Viljandi Folk Music Festival in 1994 Viljandi Pärimusmuusika Festival and spread with the growing popularity of the Festival. The term pärimusmuusika stands for both old rural music styles and their adaptations (folk-rock, art choir music, etc.) in Estonia, to emphasise the continuity of local ethnic music tradition. Those ethnic styles are not referred to as ‘popular music’ (populaarmuusika), because this term refers to the Western influences; nor as ‘folk music (adaptations)’ in order to distinguish them from old-fashioned styles of secondary folklore, including clichés of staged folklore performances, folklore as low vulgar pastime, ideological adaptations made according to Soviet ideology, etc. So the conception of ‘inheritance music’ reflects a little bit opposite tendency freshly to revive the old Estonian ethnic music tradition and to mix it with contemporary music styles. Instead of ‘external authenticity’, i.e. punctual imitation of old sound recordings (or transcriptions), musicians try to catch ‘internal authenticity’, i.e. intuitive (re)creation of ethnic music.

An Estonian dance Travelogue. A Culture tourist considers infrastructure, social capital and ­market forces’ impact on Estonian Dance.

David King

Key words: Collective Goods, Cultural Production, dance, Estonia, Externalities, Free Rider Problem, Infrastructure, Internalized costs, Koolitants, Market Forces, Productivity, Social Capital


This essay is an elaboration of a paper read at the Imagining Bodies conference at Tallinn University in 2010, where the author considered differing meanings of the concept of productivity, and market force’s impact on dance in Estonia. The premise was that a cultural tourist might be able to view and describe cultural production in Estonia in novel and possibly productive ways, because of his geographic and social displacement. After making notes while touring in Estonia, during autumn and winter of 2009/2010, on his observations of similarities and differences between how dance is created and funded in Estonia and California, the author gathered them into a travelogue and subjected them to a variety of cultural, economic and political critiques.


The scale and direction of cultural production in Estonia and California are vastly different but capital market forces foreground similar resource allocations in dance production:

  • Women provide the central core of the social infrastructure of the Estonian Dance and dance education.
  • It is this self-subsidized labour pool, operating at discounted labour costs, that provides the social infrastructure that is the primary dance resource for the next generation of Estonian dancers.
  • The social good that dance produces is often defined as a positive externality, secondary to internal/cash transactions, operating outside of the capital economy and probably not included in measures of the gross domestic product of the nation.
  • Externalizing the costs of dance education and production allows for “free riding” by individuals and institutions that profit from the goods dance practices produce for the country without making personal investment.
  • Dance is further subject to what William Baumol calls the “productivity lag” in the performing arts wherein dance, because it requires a fixed number of labour hours to produce and perform, seems cost more than the consumer goods that have become easier and quicker to produce since industrialization.
  • Training citizens’ bodies to be moved, and to move together, to dance and perform acts that create a common good, seems to be an externality – outside the bounds of market forces, something that is obfuscated and not talked about.

These definitions lead us to profligately expend the social capital it takes to create and maintain the organizational infrastructures that sustain communities.


The peoples of Estonia, from the sea-islands to the inland lakes, northern towns, and southern hills, are producing a rich and diverse cultural product. The culture of Estonia is second only to its natural beauty as an economic draw for tourism. The export of Estonian art has the potential to advertise and solidify the country’s presence in the international business and political arenas. While touring with the Koolitants festival the author, a foreigner, was given the extraordinary gift of experiencing the great energy and potential of the young dancers of the Estonian countryside and was able to see the dedicated work and commitment of the adults who are the most vibrant part of the infrastructure for moving the work of young artists from Estonia into the world.

However, the infrastructure of dance in Estonia is being pushed to produce at, or perhaps beyond, its carrying capacity and signs of strain are showing around the edges. The social infrastructure is rich, but risks losing cohesion due to burnout of key players. Young dancers often look outside of Estonia to find fulfilment in their work, adding to population stagnation and brain drain. The fear is that without timely and investments in the social and physical infrastructure of dance, Estonia will not be able to remain competitive in the global arts market.

The solution is an offset by skill and ability that small dance organizations have shown in leveraging the resources they have invested into local movements that make impacts on a national scale. Creating a strategic policy of cash investments in dance culture will mean that the dances they produce will be thoughtful reflections on the history and future of their nation.

Hare Krishna in Finland. Cultural adaptation of the global Hindu new religious movement

Kimmo Ketola

Key words: Krishnaism, Finland, studies of religion, new religions

The Finnish theology has been focused on the new religious movements and other religious minorities for a while. It has mostly been studied what kind of factors make the modernised Western people sensitive to foreign religions. The author discusses the problems related to the studies of the international new religious movements based on the fieldworks from years 1977 until 1999 concentrating on the Krishna movement in Finland. He finds that the increasing pluralism in the Western societies has reduced the tension between the minorities and dominating culture. The Krishna movement does not meet halfway in its theological and cultural position but admits that the strategies of preaching must further concentrate on a more gentle approach and the ways of cooperation with non-members should be found on a more neutral basis.

Hare Krishna and Estonia

Ringo Ringvee

Key words: alternative religions, Estonia, Hare Krishna

Hare Krishna movement is a good example of the processes entailed by the formation of a new religious movement: formation of the followers of a charismatic leader, contradiction with the majority society, organisational problems caused by the death of the leader, overcoming the crisis and stabilisation of the movement. The article gives a review of the history of Krishnaits, arrival of the movement into the Soviet Union and the movement’s activity in Estonia.

News, overviews   

Paul Hagu 65

Andreas Kalkun writes about Paul Hagu, assistant professor of Estonian and comparative folklore at the Institute of Cultural Research and Fine Arts, University of Tartu, who celebrated his 65th birthday on the 2nd of October.

A Paremiology Conference in Paris

Anneli Baran introduces the paremiology conference held in Paris from the 29th of June until the 2nd of July.

Summer school of the international humour in the Estonian Literary Museum

Liisi Laineste gives a review of International Summer School and Symposium on Humour and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications (ISS11) held from the 15th until the 20th August.

Estonians in Canada and Siberia

Anu Korb writes about the introduction week of Siberian Estonians in Toronto.

Collection conference “Ethics and choices”

Ell Vahtramäe writes about the conference organised by the Academic Folklore Society on the 27th of October.


A brief summary of the events and activities of Estonian folklorists from August to December 2011.

A Polyphonic Collection of Narratives

Narrative Episodes from the Tulalang Epic. Hazel J. Wrigglesworth (comp. & ed.), Ampatuan Ampalid, Letipa Andaguer, Adriano Ambangan. Manila: Linguistic Society of the Philippines. 2008. Review by Katre Kikas. English version of the review is available at http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol47/books.pdf.

Quick Excursion to the Magical Thought

Leander Petzoldt. Magie. Weltbild, Praktiken, Rituale. München: C. H. Beck. 2011. Reviewed by Reet Hiiemäe.