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The idea was to give a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into organizing a Latvian song and dance festival, told from the eyes of a first-time organizer.
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Ironically, despite putting out seven of these articles over the past year, I never actually discussed any of my own work.
In my roles as secretary, webmaster and marketing team member, I was responsible for reaching out to various audiences through newspapers, blog posts, advertisements and, yes, this very series.
At the core of everything I worked on, and everything we all do as Dziesmu svētki organizers, is one issue: identity. What does Latvia mean to me?
And so forth. Spoiler alert: the answer is… there is no single answer.
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Instead, each person has his or her own definition of what their identity means to them, and why various aspects of this identity are or are not as important as others. Which, yes, is a cliché, but it also happens to be true. If each of our personal feelings about latvietība are different, how do we create an event that speaks to each of these at times contradictory views?
Language is, understandably, a central tenet of our Latvian identity. Unfortunately, the title had to stay in English. English was also unavoidable in setting up our online svars loss fitness ar verv itunes store and volunteer sign-up page.
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Even in Latvian, navigating language can be tricky. If you ever want to start a serious throwdown in the Latvian-American dance community, just ask for the correct spelling of the Latvian word for choreographer.
The ensuing debate will pit choreogrāfs, the spelling brought to the States after WWII, against horeogrāfs, the spelling currently used in Latvia. All based on a single letter in a single word. A similar decision had to be made about which word to use to describe the participating folk dance troupes. In Latvia, the dance designations kolektīvs collectiveansamblis ensemble and kopa troupe are very specific, indicating various degrees of skill and reputation.
Using those terms interchangeably can arouse a lot of passion and recrimination. We chose to use the word grupa grouphoping to avoid those minefields entirely. In my work with the festival I had to think about not just how to use language, but when to use it.
If we care about maintaining the Latvian community in America, we need to acknowledge the fact that each generation becomes less and less fluent in Latvian. For Latvian schools and camps, where immersion is crucial to maintaining what hold we can on the language, the attempt to balance immersion with inclusion is a seemingly impossible and ever-present struggle. Is Dziesmu svētki in the same boat? In my personal opinion, no.
The spirit of Dziesmu svētki lives in aspects of our culture that transcend language. No matter how much you care about whether choregrāfs is spelled with a ch- or an h- you can understand the joy of a polka or the pride emanating from the song Gaismas pils, and feel truly connected to your Latvian roots, fellow performers, friends and family.
Latvians Online – Ikkatram latvietim pasaulē.
We should work hard to safeguard our language, to be sure, but we should work just as hard to ensure that non-Latvian speakers feel included. Some marketing materials were by design prepared in only one language, based on the target audience for example, Laiks articles in Latvian, this series in English.
But mostly, the goal was to include everyone. Which meant twice the work. There are two separate, complete versions of the festival website — one in Latvian, one in English. Every time I wrote a blog post or created ignite svara zudums kit new page, I had to create two versions, submit them to two different proofreaders and post them on two different sites.
Overall, though, accepting both languages has simplified matters for festival organizers, who vary widely in their language abilities. Beyond language, the organizers also come from a wide range of backgrounds and have different interests, ages, hometowns and skill sets.
All of these biographical details have been crucial to festival decision-making.
Each of our connections to Dziesmu svētki is deeply personal, but also dramatically different from the person sitting next to us. I strove to find participants from various geographic regions, participating in every corner of the festival. It reenergizes, motivates and brings the community back together. One troupe is led by a non Latvian speaker.
One is sending its largest dancer count in history. Another reassembled recently after a multi-decade hiatus. The end result is that the folk dancing show will feature a whopping dancers — impressive, considering the rapidly shrinking numbers for festivals overall.
In my opinion, this is the exact kind of love for culture we should be promoting. Of course, there is more to diversity and identity than language.
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My dance troupe only has eight members and the best dances all require twice that, but I can rearrange the choreography to scale it down. Just as Griffin said — regardless of obstacles, the Latvians are coming, and coming strong, each bringing his or her own brand of Latvian strength along.
But what of those who do? I am not alone in feeling this pressure. Is that how we are doing it?
Trust me — I have felt the same frustration. Yet for each of these disappointments, I have met a different attendee who felt the polar opposite from me.
No matter what, every single preference for every single attendee simply cannot be accommodated. Instead, perhaps we could consider any disagreement about how bīstami strauji svara zaudēšanas padomi festival should run or what it should look like as an amazing example of just how many different people care about it, and how those people can come together and feel connected, despite their differences.
Dziesmu svētki is magical. My friends and family from across the country — plus countless spouses marrying into Latvian families, and my former Latvian school teachers, and a Triju Zvaigžņu ordenis—winning composer, and professional musicians from across the globe, and an entire troupe of rookie dancers, and a celebrity chef, and an army of Latvian jewelers, artists, and authors — get to enjoy svars loss fitness ar verv itunes together in one place with one voice whether we are actually singing or not.
I hope I have done a decent job of reaching out to these people over the past year, and I welcome you all to Baltimore.
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