Awards and Recognitions

November 2019. Outstanding Achievement and Outstanding Organization.

Estonian American National Council (EANC) recognizes Anu Oinas of Pillerkaar.

Anu Oinas founded Pillerkaar in 1971. Under her leadership and instruction, the group quickly flourshed. The next year, 24 ouples from teh group attended teh Estonian World Festival in Toronto, Canada. Pillerkaar has graced stages, stadiums and festivals with their energy and talents ever since.

With Ms. Oinas at its helm, PIllerkaar grew so big that it encompased three different dance troupes: one for youth, another for adults, and a third for seasoned dancers. When Estonian folk dancing started to wane in teh United States in the early 2000s, Ms. Oinas led a new charge by launching IREKS, Ida Ranniku Eesti Kula Simman (East Coast Estonian Village Soiree). Ms. Oinas and Pillerkaar spent many hours planning and preparing. Performances included Estonian, Lithuanian, and Latvian music and dance. The event brought together over 500 people and inspired dance groups up and down the east coast.

In 2019 , Ms. Oinas was recognized by teh Estonian Foreign Ministry as a Citizen Diplomat for her contributions to teaching and preserving Estonian folk dance and to introducing Estonian culture for over 40 years.

When Ms. Oinas retired in 2015, Jeff Zelek and Kadri Kallas Zelek took over directing the group. Pillerkaar continues to bring together enthusiastic dancers from teh Washington, DC area for weekly practices and periodic performances. The group has traveled all over the world to perform at Estonian World Festivals and regularly performs in its local Washington, DC metro area. It has performed at the NATO Festival, Scan Fest, the World Bank, various embassies, and countless local festivals in teh DC area. For almost 50 years, Anu Oinas and Pillerkaar have been instrumental in bringing Estonians together to enjoy their own traditions and in providing a colorful glimpse of Estonian culture and people to the American public.

Anu Oinas, Jeff and Kadri Zelek

Presented by Karin Shuey and Ivan Kavoleff of EANC

Photo credit: Ulla Vinkman — at The 2019 Awards Gala hosted by Estonian American National Council, Washington, DC.

February 2019. Citizens Diplomat Award.

Congratulations to our founder Anu Oinas who has been recognized by the Estonian Foreign Ministry as a Citizen Diplomat for her contributions to teaching and preserving Estonian folk dance traditions and to introducing Americans to Estonian culture for over 40 years!

Anu Oinas’ speech for EANC Award - November 9, 2019

I am humbled and honored to receive this incredible recognition. Thank you all.

Little did I know in 1959, that Eda Melders and Ana Abel would have such an influence on the rest of my life by starting an Estonian folk dance group on Long Island. It was from these two wonderful women that I learned the basics of Estonian folk dance and from my dad, the desire to cultivate Estonian heritage - through dance. In 1960, my dad and I founded “Virmalised,” a girl guide troop, and under the guidance of my dad, I taught the gaidid and hellakesed scouting principles and Estonian folk dance - just what Eda and Ana had taught me.

Estonian functions, high school, and college flew by quickly, and in 1967, I found myself in Washington, DC, with an undergraduate degree in pre-med, a husband, and later, two kids!

Before leaving NY and while matriculated, I met a very good friend who joined korp! Indla at the same time I did. She lived in Baltimore, and when I relocated to Washington, DC, we rekindled our friendship. We both felt that the DC Estonians were badly in need of a folk dance group, since the one started by Camilla Kuus in 1951 had dwindled and dispersed. It was over coffee and cake in 1970, that we decided to reunite the old group, whose dancers were now grown with children of their own, and establish a new Estonian folk dance in Washington, DC. I agreed to be the teacher, and Maria Pedak Kari became the PR director. She performed that duty so well that the response was overwhelming! Within weeks I had so many Estonians interested in learning folk dance that I had to divide them into three groups: children, young adults, and seasoned dancers. Our first performance was in Toronto ESTO, 1972, with 28 dancers, where parents danced with their offspring and husbands with their wives.

As a single parent, working a full time job, and with two little kids in tow, I drove 40 miles one way every Wednesday for over 20 years to Calvary Lutheran Church in Silver Spring for dance practices. My guest tonight is my daughter Laila who, I’m happy to say, started dancing at age 3 and is still dancing today, making her the longest standing member of Pillerkaar. It’s been a long journey and I’ve done my best to be the teacher, the anchor, the muscle, and the spirit of Pillerkaar over the years. I am now happy to pass the torch to the younger members who have successfully taken Pillerkaar into the 21st century. I applaud Jeff and Kadri Zelek for taking over the teaching and management of Pillerkaar, and all the current dancers for their dedication, loyalty, and hard work.

Many others, dedicated to promoting the culture and traditions of Estonia, have come to my aid over the years. I would like to recognize them now:

  • Lea Kiik, for countless words of support over the years, and for traveling from Baltimore to Silver Spring with her two kids after ESTO 88, when many dancers took different paths, and when Lea and I, with our young children, were the only ones at practice;

  • Reet Kaseoru (now passed away), who drove from Baltimore to our practices in DC with two little boys to help me teach;

  • Sven Roosild and Raivo Vest, who helped teach men’s dances for several months when there were so many dancers that I had to separate women and men to learn dances independently of each other (I’ll always remember the boys hopping around doing Karutants and tripping over sticks doing “Pulgatants” which they taught so well!);

  • Arvo Verkamer, who took over teaching Pillerkaar in 1986, when I was consumed in defending my father against lies, misinformation, and falsified testimony;

  • Pia Salmre, for graciously providing her condo activities room for practices and a great Pillerkaar Xmas party in 1994;

  • Rima Vesilind for providing free Pillerkaar practices at the Fairfax County School where she was principal;

  • World Bank, where I worked for over 25 years, for giving us a central location for Pillerkaar practices at no cost;

  • And I cannot forget Silvi Valge who, for over 20 years and out of the goodness and kindness of her heart, provided the church facilities where she worked at Calvary Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, for Pillerkar Sunday afternoon practices and performances.

I’d also like to thank the Estonian people who eagerly attended and applauded the many Pillerkaar performances at ESTOs, NATO & Scandinavian festivals, local heritage festivals, Oktoberfests, Jaanipäevad, Vabariigi aastapäevad, IREKS (Ida Ranniku Eesti Kula Simman) 2007, 2008, 2010, and other events too numerous to count.

The Estonian Aid Committee and ERKU have also been staunch supporters of Pillerkaar and who, over the years, were instrumental in helping with the purchase of men’s folk dance hats, coats, and vests. I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

Pillerkaar would not be an Estonian Folk Dance group today without its dancers who were willing to take precious hours out of their busy schedules to drive great distances to practices and performances. Since 1971, over 150 Estonians, their children, spouses, and friends have danced and performed with Pillerkaar. To honor all of them, I would like you to bear with me while I read their names. I sincerely apologize if I inadvertently omitted anyone. List of Pillerkaar dancers 1971-2019 (in alphabetical order)

Aaresild, AnnAlvre, TiinaAnnunziata, LauraAreng, Krista, Aili, Veljo Carvalhoe, BlaineDoyan, TiinaEinberg, ChrisEinseln, Heili, Hillevi,MattiEts, MarikaFisher, Tiina & KristaFunkner, Ellen ValkGornischef, MilviGrabbi, Chris & LisaGrabbi, Indrek & AnuHeilman, KarenHill, SirliHudson, Kelli-SekkJoonsar, Heikki & InneKalvik, LeenaKari, Maria PedakKarm, Lya&Joe LaukaitisKaseoru, Reet, Kalev, KarlKeder, TiinaKiik, Andrus & KelseyKink, IlmarKlepp, DeborahKriit, KadiKollist, Ingris & AndresKool, Kaja & MarkKopf, CliffKork, Jyri Erik & MaunoKreek, Tiina, Eerik,&Miia Kriis, KadriKuhn, MartKuld, KatiLaaman, KaitLaFortune, Jessie OtsLandra-Robinson, AgeLaw, Elo ValdsaarLeetmaa, Ants& AnuLeetmaa, Susan & RonLing, RaivoLipping, TuuliMaandi, EerikMadisson, UloMägi, Inga & CatherineMalmgren, ViivianneMartin, LisaMayer, TiiuMilles, Kai EinselnNomm, KadiOinas, Laila & VaikiPaabo, SveaParratt, ToomasPedak, JaakPedak-Kari, MariaPitsal, KülliPivorunas, DavidPleake-Tamm, AmaliaPoom, Malle AxelsonPuskar, Liia Mai & ErikRaidma, JuhanRand, AiviRandall, ArnoReial, KadiRikken, Christofer & KaiRissler, Maia & GrantRoomets, HaraldRoosild, Sven & AiliRudzinsiki, IreneSalmre, PiaSarapik, Aili & HelviSchuey, KarinSerli, HannamarySmits, ArneySoobert, AllanTaagepera, SalmeTankler, LauriTari, TalvarTarm, MichaelTeetsov, JaanTisler, EveUrv, TiinaValge, Silvi & MadisVerkamer, Arvo & KarinVesilind, Priit, Rima, Paul, Holly, & BillyVest, Raivo and kidsViira, AivarZelek, Jeff & Kadri Zirk-Robinson, Maarika

Last, but not least, I’d like to dedicate this award, posthumously, to my loving father, without whom I would not have the cultural and traditional strengths he taught me, nor the perseverance to carry them out through the years with so much adversity along the way. Karl Linnas, the man who should have received this award 40 years ago for his dedication to Estonian girl guides, ENOLI (Eesti Noorte Orkester Long Islandil), and his stalwart allegiance in the war to win back Estonia’s freedom

This is for you Taat!