Nostalgia for Folk Dancing

by Elizabeth Leader

As the weather warms and the daylight stretches long into the night, I find myself nostalgic for folk dancing.

I was fifteen the first time I went walking through the Vilnius Old Town with friends and followed the growing sounds of music and laughter into an oft-ignored inner courtyard. Coming through its archway, we encountered a swirling crowd of people dancing to the beats of half a dozen Lithuanian folk musicians’ instruments. There were fiddles, a cello, pipes, an accordion, and a drum, all carrying an even oomp-a oomp-a rhythm that echoed up and out of the courtyard’s neoclassical walls. Though the tune was unfamiliar, there was a decidedly inclusive quality to it—a welcoming warmth that seemed to accompany its notes and fill me from top to toe with anticipation of the dance.

Beside me, my friend Lorena grabbed my hand. “Come on!” she smiled, breaking my reverie as she tugged me over a trampled flower bed and onto the cobblestone square. We paused on the edge of the circle of dancers and watched as two twenty-somethings bounced by, kicking their legs out in time to the music. They were followed by a little girl reaching up for her grandfather’s hands as they spun–not quite as on-tempo, but done so with enormous enthusiasm. That’s the thing about Lithuanian folk dancing: it doesn’t matter whether someone is five or ninety-five, a professional folk dancer or the owner of two left feet, everyone is welcome to join in the dance if so inclined.

Having observed enough to have a sense of this dance’s basic steps, Lorena and I joined the whirlwind. Our feet were clumsy at first, but we soon settled into the music and found ourselves laughing and turning in time with the couples beside us. As one dance flowed into another, as dancers left to catch their breath only to have the music entice them back into the circle, we all danced on into the night. And we were utterly and completely happy.

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International Student Services & Activities, also known as ISSA, supports and advises the international student community at the University of Notre Dame. ISSA staff members are deeply committed to fostering a campus environment that welcomes the international student community and promotes cross-cultural interaction and understanding.

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