Latvian dance preserves sisters’ heritage

Some people dance in pursuit of artistic excellence. Others dance only for fun, while still others see it as a sport, competitively performing on a team. But for senior Krista Viksnins, dancing is an important way of staying connected to her Latvian heritage.

Since she was five years old,  Viksnins has danced Latvian folk dances with her Pērkonītis troupe. Already taking ballet lessons, Viksnins discovered a talent for traditional dances at her Latvian school in St. Paul. “That first year, my dad saw how much I enjoyed folk dancing that he signed up our group, Pērkonītis, to perform in May at the Festival of Nations,” she said. Viksnins moved up within the troupe in later years. She and her sister, sophomore Laura Viksnins, still perform with Pērkonītis at the Festival of Nations, as well as at events within the Latvian community in Minnesota.

The main venue of Viksnins’s cultural activity is her Lutheran Latvian church in south Minneapolis. “[We use the church] to hold Saturday school on Saturday, dance rehearsals in the afternoon, concerts and plays in the evening, and church on Sunday morning,” she said.

Viksnins has several favorite dances, ranging from the Seju Veju which “has wonderful music and complicated patterns of weaving, polka, jumping and stomping,” to the “Sun and Moon Dance,” a solemn and intricate number in which the dancers form patterns which can be observed from above.

The dancers of the Pērkonītis group wear clothing typical of central or northern dances. Girls and women wear woolen skirts with white blouses and crowns or headscarves. The men wear linen shirts and dark wool pants with socks drawn over the ankles.

Another draw dancing with the troupe has for Viksnins is the Latvian Song and Dance Festival, an event which takes place every five years and features more than 30,000 performers. At the 2012 festival in Milwaukee, she danced ten times in one day, in addition to singing with a choir.

Viksnins hopes that she can continue dancing after she leaves for college. “There are plenty of times that I want to skip and just hang with my friends like a normal teenager, but I find it so rewarding remembering this is a part of my culture I never want to forget,” she said.