Song and dance festival traditions in the Baltics
Song and dance festival

traditions in the Baltics

The Baltics boast a strong tradition of performing folk art. To honour this heritage, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia host Song and Dance Festivals, which have been recognised by UNESCO as Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Amazingly, the festivals have stood the test of time, survived power struggles and the Soviets’ attempts at curbing tradition. This is certainly proof of the Latvians’, Lithuanians’ and Estonians’ incredible willpower, strength and patriotism, for which the tiny Baltic nations have come to be known.

In the Baltics, to be part of a folk dance group or choir is an honourable hobby regardless of age. Schools encourage children to take part in the festivals and maintain this intangible heritage for future generations to enjoy.

Outside the Baltics, Latvian, Lithuanian and Estonian communities in countries as far as Australia and Canada have their own choirs and dance groups. For many members, getting to take part in the Song and Dance Festivals in their countries of origin is a major life experience.

WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE SONG AND DANCE FESTIVALS IN THE BALTICS

There’s arguably no better occasion to witness the diversity and beauty of Baltic folk costumes than the Song and Dance Festivals when folk dance groups and choirs flock to the capitals for a series of public and ticketed performances and competitions.

You may witness groups spontaneously burst into song in the cities’ parks and squares, on trams and buses as they head towards festival venues. The Baltics are known for some of the best singing voices and choirs in the world.

The festivals are a very special time to be in the Baltics when you can really immerse yourself in local culture and learn the region’s history as it’s expressed through the media of song and dance.

To complement the concert programme, markets and stalls pop up throughout the cities, so it’s also an excellent time to discover local arts and crafts traditions, and pick up special and sustainable souvenirs such as knitwear, linen tableware, leather and amber jewellery. Orchestras and amateur theatre groups also add to the diversity of the programme.

Though similar in character, the Song and Dance Festivals in each Baltic country do have their distinctions.

Song and Dance Festival

Estonia

The Estonians were first to hold a festival in 1869 in Tartu at the time of the national awakening. Nowadays, the festival takes place every five years and is centred around the Lauluväljak (Song Festival Grounds) in Tallinn. A highlight of the four-day event is the participants’ procession. The festival culminates with the Song Celebration, which lasts for many hours.

Song and Dance Festival

Latvia

In Latvia, the festival tradition dates back to 1873. Nowadays, the ten-day festival takes place every five years in Riga and gathers around 30 000 participants. Many events are ticketed but the festival vibe permeates the city and plenty of free concerts take place at the central parks of Esplanāde and Vērmanes Dārzs. The two most sought-after events are the great dance concert and the closing concert at the iconic open-air stage in the Mežaparks area – Riga’s green lung. After the closing concert, the spectators are invited to join an all-night singalong of Latvian favourites.

Song and Dance Festival

Lithuania

In Lithuania, the first festival took place in 1924. Today, the week-long event is held every four years in Vilnius. The organisers describe it as the “Art Olympics” of Lithuania. A folk art exhibition accompanies the festivities, which culminate in Song Day at Vingis Park Amphitheatre. 20 000 singers and 9000 dancers gather for the festival.

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the best of the Baltics during the Song and Dance Festivals in Tallinn 2019, Vilnius 2022 and Riga 2023.