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World War II and the Soviet occupation of Lithuania forced thousands of Lithuanians to flee their homeland and seek new lives in cities around the world. With little or no contact with their families behind the Iron Curtain, they feared losing it all – language, music, dance, and tradition. For the next several decades, they raised families, built schools, established parishes, and formed dance, theater, and choral groups to preserve their heritage. Lithuanian song and dance held a special place in their hearts. Lithuanian Dance wove a fabric that honored the homeland and ensured that their heritage would not be forgotten.
In 1957, the Chicago chapter of the Lithuanian-American Community, Inc. organized the first North American Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival, under the direction of Bruno Shotas; dancers from 18 U.S. and Canadian cities gathered to celebrate Lithuanian folk dancing. It was an historic, and wildly successful event, marking the first of many subsequent festivals.
That same year, the Lithuanian Folk Dance Institute Lietuviu Tautiniu Sokiu Institutas – LTSI was formed. Its mission is to preserve and nurture the art of folk dancing together with its music, authentic costumes, and traditions. The LTSI maintains close ties with folk dance ensembles around the world and regularly hosts a week-long training course at Camp Dainava in southeastern Michigan. The Lithuanian Folk Dance Institute, together with The Lithuanian-American Community, Inc. and The Lithuanian Canadian Community, organized the folk dance festivals that have taken place approximately every four years since 1957.
Since 1991, when Lithuania once again gained independence, several dance groups from Lithuania have participated at the quadrennial North American festivals. A new wave of emigres to the US has also brought instructors and choreographers who have lent their talents to preserve the art of Lithuanian folk dancing.
I Folk Dance Festival 1957 – Chicago
More than 1,100 dancers from 29 groups across 18 cities in the United States and Canada gathered to celebrate Lithuanian folk dancing. In addition, numerous children’s choirs totaling 800 singers performed at this inaugural event.
Artistic Director: Bruno Shotas.
II Folk Dance Festival 1963 – Chicago
1,100 dancers performed in quadrants to better showcase the formations and patterns integral to Lithuanian folk dances.
Artistic Director: Liudas Sagys.
III Folk Dance Festival 1968 – Chicago
1,500 dancers executed nearly 20 traditional dances. A choir accompanied their performance.
Artistic Director: Jadvyga Meiliunaite-Matulaitiene.
IV Folk Dance Festival 1972 – Chicago
Dance groups from South America and Germany traveled to Chicago to join the 1,700 dancers who performed for First Lady Patricia Nixon.
Artistic Director: Genovaite Dumciute-Breichmaniene.
V Folk Dance Festival 1976 – Chicago
In celebration of the U.S. bicentennial, 1,800 dancers spelled out “200” and danced the Virginia Reel. First Lady Betty Ford was a special guest.
Artistic Director: Galina Gobiene.
VI Folk Dance Festival 1980 – Chicago
Showcasing more than 2,200 dancers, this was – and still remains – the largest folk dance festival.
Artistic Director: Nijole Jasenaite-Pupiene.
VII Folk Dance Festival 1984 – Cleveland
The festival moved beyond Chicago for the first time. More than 2,000 dancers participated.
Artistic Director: Jadvyga Reginiene.
VIII Folk Dance Festival 1988 – Hamilton, Ontario
Groups from Sydney, Australia and Punskas, Poland, joined 1,800 dancers for the first festival held in Canada.
Artistic Directors: Rita and Juozas Karasiejus, Genovaite Dumciute-Breichmaniene, and Liudas Sagys.
IX Folk Dance Festival 1992 – Chicago
For the very first time, a folk dance group from Lithuania – Vetrunge – joined the more than 2,100 dancers at this festival.
Artistic Director: Dalia Dzikiene.
X Folk Dance Festival 1996 – Chicago
At this anniversary event, more than 2,000 dancers honored the previous folk dance festival artistic directors.
Artistic Director: Violeta Smieliauskaite-Fabianovich.
XI Folk Dance Festival 2000 – Toronto, Ontario
Zilvitis, a traditional musical ensemble from Lithuania, accompanied the performance of 1,600 dancers.
Artistic Directors: Rita and Juozas Karasiejus.
XII Folk Dance Festival 2004 – Chicago
Acting president of Lithuania, Arturas Paulauskas, was the special guest. Over 1,500 dancers participated.
Artistic Director: Rasa Soliunaite-Poskocimiene.
XIII Folk Dance Festival 2008 – Los Angeles
The festival moved to the West Coast in 2008. Three groups from Lithuania participated: Grandinele (Panevezys), Kalnapuse (Neringa), Sugrizus (Vilnius). More than 1,100 dancers performed.
Artistic Director: Danguole Razutyte-Varniene.
XIV Folk Dance Festival 2012 – Boston
The 2012 festival in Boston marked the first time this festival took place on the East Coast. Over 1,800 dancers, representing 50 folk dance groups, participated in the event. The festival included groups from Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, England, Brazil, Canada and the US. This was one of the largest gatherings of dancers in the history of the folk dance festivals. The event attracted an audience of more than 4,700!
Artistic Directors: Romas Jonusonis and Vida Brazaityte.
XV Folk Dance Festival 2016 – Baltimore
The 2016 festival was held in Baltimore, which has a rich Lithuanian history. The first Lithuanians arrived in Baltimore in 1876 and peaked to roughly 20,000 living in the Baltimore region in 1991. The XV Folk Dance Festival featured a performance of nearly 1,800 dancers comprised of 46 troupes from six countries. The oldest dancer was 77 and the youngest was 7.
Artistic Director: Tomas E. Mikuckis, Design and Production Director: Simona Užaitė.