Grand County: Experience the dance and customs of Norway
March 21, 2008
The local chapter of the Sons of Norway present a Scandinavian dance troupe for a free performance at the YMCA of the Rockies next Monday. Shows by the troupe include authentic costumes and dances that are described as very animated and sometimes quite athletic. The lively event is open to the public.
The group consists of around two-dozen students from grades nine through 12 from Stoughton High School in Stoughton, Wis., called the Stoughton Norwegian Dancers.
The original organization began in 1953, with students performing for their home community at Syttende Mai, the Norwegian Independence Day.
The recognition of Syttende Mai became a tradition in the community and school
administrator Albert Molderhauer, who was of German ancestry, felt the schools could play a more active part in supporting Stoughton’s ethnic pride (the area was primarily populated with second- and third-generation Norwegians).
He brought the idea to the girls’ physical education teacher Jeanne Reek and asked her about starting up a Norwegian dance group made up of high school students. Although Reek (of English ancestry) had limited folk dance background and probably even less knowledge of Norway and its customs, she was convinced of the value of such a group and agreed to take on the challenge.
She chose six girls who, in turn, chose partners to form that very first group. They began practicing during their lunch break at school and eventually added 7 a.m. practices before school. The first costumes were all made by hand.
By its third year, the interest grew to such an extent that Reek came up with a way the students could discover all there was to know about Norway and its customs. In 1964, she traveled to Norway and spent almost two months filming folk dances, acquiring translations to accompany films, explored costume shops and taped music there.
These days, there are about 20 dancers who make up the Norwegian Dancers troupe and three keyboardists have replaced the original accordion musicians.
The costumes have changed as well. The girls’ bunads are actually from Norway and represent different regions of the country and the boys’ bunads are made in Stoughton with material imported from Norway.
With the support and assistance of their community members, school personnel and parents, the Stoughton Norwegian Dancers have become goodwill ambassadors for the Norwegian culture found in their hometown. They were even asked to perform for King Olaf of Norway when he visited Madison in 1968.
Each year, new students try out for about 10 vacancies created by the previous year’s graduating seniors. The students share their talents across the United States, entertaining audiences from all walks of life and leaving them with a sincere appreciation for their Norwegian heritage. They visit a different part of the country each spring and the group travels to Norway every four years to brush up on and enjoy the culture.
In the past year and a half, the Sons of Norway has been trying to form a full local chapter here in Grand County. So far, there are 25 members of 40 needed. Year-round activities include activities such as the upcoming dancers’ performance, picnics, Barnelopet and pig roast in August.