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Folk Dance History

                   Estonian Independence Day celebration at the Calvary Lutheran Church - Feb. 1984

History of Pillerkaar, Estononian Folk Dancers of the Greater Washington, DC Area

Pillerkaar came together under the auspices of the Estonian Society of  Washington, DC for the first time in the fall of 1971 with Anu Oinas as the founder and instructor and Maria Pedak Kari as the public relations person and events coordinator.  The goal of this folk dancing endeavor was to keep alive the forgotten art of Estonian Folk Dance (as Estonia was under communist control) and to enlist Estonians young and old to come together to renew a part of their culture and tradition with dance.  As Anu had already taught folk dance in New York, she was the perfect candidate to pull through such an endeavor. 

There was another short term goal in mind – to perform as a group at ESTO 1972 in Toronto, Canada – which they did, 24 couples strong!  They were ages 10 to 50+ and many moms or dads danced with their teen aged kids!   In the years that followed, the group grew so large that Anu had to split then into three:  kids, adults, and seasoned dancers.   They each practiced once every other week but on different days – Anu had to drive 60 miles round trip six times a month to teach.  That’s dedication!

Originally, they danced at the Lutheran Church on Gallatin Road in NW Washington.  Later,  Rima Vesilind, who worked at one of the Fairfax County schools, offered the school for dancing practices but it was sporadic and they needed a permanent place.   In the middle 70’s, Silvi Valge, who  worked at Calvary Lutheran Church, in Silver Spring, MD, offered the church basement hall to Pillerkaar for their practices.  It is there that they practiced for 20 years under the kind gratitude of the church!  Since the group was so big, Anu enlisted help from others who helped with dance instruction, Sven Roosild, Raivo Vest, Reet Kaseoru, Karin Shuey, and Arvo Vercamer.  For the first 25 years, dances were taught from written instructions (in Estonian) in Ulo Toomi’s folk dance book.  It was a difficult job translating each toe  and finger movement from Estonian to English!

The 70’s and 80’s were spent learning new dances for each ESTO, every four years, and for performances for various folk festivals, Estonian Independence Day, and Jaanipaev (Celebration of Light).  From 1984-88, Pillerkaar’s dancers selected its current name (from many choices) and established its formal identity as Pillerkaar, Washington Folk Dancers.   Pillerkaar has been performing 3-10 times each year since then.

ESTO 88 brought a big change in the group since a large percentage were young people who went to college or got married and had children in the next few years.  The group took a hiatus for a year and then started up again – this time in Virginia (and closer to Anu).  It branched out to include friends of the dancers as well and since then have had quite a few Americans join in our practices and performances.  We practiced at the local high school for close to ten years until they required a $500 insurance policy to use the facilities.  In the next few years, practices were held weekly at various dancers homes and at Anu’s home in Virginia.  In the last year, we have been practicing more centrally, at the World Bank, where Anu currently works. 


The current group consists of about 20 Estonians and their spouses and friends.  In the last five years, more and more new dances are coming from Estonia and videotapes have become available to make teaching a lot simpler.  Pillerkaar itself has seasoned and a new dance can be learned during one practice!  The people love to dance, keep up the tradition of their forefathers, and have made a weekly commitment to attend practices. We performed 8 times in 1999 and 10 times in 2000 and 12 times in 2001!  Since then we have averaged about 8 performances per year.



Prince Georges County Library Heritage Festival 3-8-86


Events for which we have performed include: Baltimore Historical Society; Celebration of Light; Essex, Fairfax, Arlington, Montgomery, and Gaithersburg Heritage Festivals; Australian and Estonian Embassies; Estonian World Festivals; Sports Events; Maryland University; Ronald Reagan Center; Smithsonian Institution; Wolf Trapp; World Bank; weddings; and parties.

Subpages (1): Folk Dance Orgins