3 September 2017


Budd Lake, NewJersey

How Pillerkaar started participation at Scanfest

Pillerkaar started going to Scanfest in the late 90's only a few couples at a time. In those days Estonia was not considered a "Nordic" country so Pillerkaar was there very low key. Anu Oinas, founder and choreographer of Pillerkaar, Estonian Folk Dancers, was persistent in calling the director and pushed to perform there so they reluctantly accepted. When a performance of 10 dances with six couples blew away the audience, there was a demand to invite Estonians, Estonian dancers, and Estonian crafters. Over the years, Pillerkaar gained recognition and became so popular that a picture of Laila and Talvar in the ending jump pose of Tuljak was printed on the Scanfest flyer for years with subsequent pictures of Laila’s son, Hagan, in Estonian national dress on later flyers! The originators of Scanfest also came to all three of Pillerkaar’s IREKS (Ida Ranniku Eesti Küla Simman) performances in 2007, 2008, and 2010.

ScanFest found its origin in 1985 by the two newest lodges of the Vasa Order, NJ District, as a fundraiser and expanded picnic, by members of Viking and another Lodge, based on a small festival near Chicago where members lived. It was held on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend because that was the only weekend available not scheduled for other activities at the Park and the date was open because 'everyone knows' that you can't successfully hold a festival that weekend. They had some 1000 participants the first year!.

Scanfest grew slowly to include another new lodge which had formed in the NJ VoA district and continued at Vasa Park for about 10 years until in 1994, when the event had outgrown the facilities available at that time at the Park and they moved to the much nicer and larger facilities at nearby Waterloo Village, an historical canal town, run by the non-profit Waterloo Foundation for the Arts.

However, Scanfest planners realized that in order to expand the reach of the event, they needed to involve members of other nationalities groups and to do that, they needed to become something other than just a fundraiser for a couple of VoA lodges. They were also encouraged by the Swedish Consul-General's office in NY to become a non-profit corporation independent of the Vasa Order so that they could more easily get greater involvement by other Nordic groups. They renamed the festival in 1996 to Scandinavian Fest, Inc., a non-profit educational corporation in NJ with 501(c)3 IRS status. The event continued to grow with continued contact with other groups, some advertising, and a bit of word-of-mouth.

It was at the retirement part for Harry Hedin who was retiring as manager of Solhem, the Swedish retirement home on Staten Island. The dinner reception was held at Estonia House in NYC. Members of Scanfest were invited as a guest of one of the members of Harry Hedin's lodge, Judy Eggers. They explored the lovely handcrafter wood paneling and designs of the Estonian House down to the basement floor where they found a rustic and shining bar room. After introductions to several staff member there, and a beer or two, they got around to talking about ScanFest and the Estonians asked them who attended this event. The Swedes responded that it was, of course, the Danes, Icelanders, Finns, Norwegians, and Swedes. The Estonians asked: “Why don't you have the Estonians?” You have the Finns, why don't you have the Estonians? The Swedes said, “They're not Scandinavian!” The Estonians responded with “Neither are the Finns who are Nordic - not Scandinavian!” They then enumerated the same language origins and similarity, and that the capital, Tallinn, was founded by the Danes, that the Swedes 'protected' Estonia for about 200 years, the University was founded by a Swedish monarch, etc., etc., and there is a long history of cooperation between Sweden and Estonia....

So the Swedes investigated further, found out about the Lakewood, NJ, Estonian Club, got to know the Estonia House officers, Epp Vinkman, at the time, and that led to finding out about Pillerkaar. They have been inviting Pillerkaar to Scanfest since then.

Pillerkaar at Scanfest in Budd Lake, NJ on September 3, 2017

The morning of Sunday, September 3, tropical depression Harvey was dampening everything except spirits at the 33rd annual Scandinavian Festival in Budd Lake, New Jersey. The drizzle had largely stopped during the opening ceremony honoring Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, when newest Pillerkaar member Toomas Parratt proudly bore the Estonian flag as Deborah Klepp, Jyri Erik Kork, and Jeff Zelek sang the Estonian anthem a cappella. Blue skies and sunshine made an appearance as Pillerkaar started its first performance. Since ScanFest is intended to entertain and to educate, Pillerkaar’s Director Jeff Zelek and dancers interspersed the dances with stories to tell how the songs and dances of the small nation of Estonia express its powerful and enduring spirit. We began with Padespaan, a social dance common in the 1900’s in Estonia and around Europe, followed by Raksi Jaak (Jack from Raksi) and Kalamies (Fisherman Dance), two traditional dances done at village parties. After describing the importance of Estonian song and dance festivals, we then performed four choreographed dances – the rustic, flirty polka Reilender (Reel Dance); Vanaviisi valss (An Old Tune Waltz) with its multiple shapes and surprise ending of women jumping into the men’s arms; and the flowing sea-inspired waltz Usalda (Trust); noting that composer Arvo Pärt is the world’s most-performed living orchestral composer.

Romping-stomping Kungla Polka, choreographed some decades ago in Toronto by Toomas Metsala for his Estonian Toronto folk dance group, Kungla, was next. For the first time, we shared with the audience our dream of choreographing our own dance to name after Pillerkaar! (Help us find the right song by posting your suggestions on our Pillerkaar, Washington, DC Facebook site of fun polkas or waltzes composed or performed by Estonian-Americans or Estonian songs inspired by American themes!) Traditional circle dance Oige ja Vasemba (Right and Left) preceded riveting wedding dance Tuljak, performed at every dance celebration for 80 years. After our second performance, Pillerkaar invited audience members to join for Neljapuari (Four Couples Dance) and Kaera-Jaan (“Jump” John). After the performance, Pillerkaar dancers were pleased to again dance to the pan-Scan polkas of Smorgas Bandet, a lively accordion band specializing in Scandinavian music.

By Deborah Klepp, Pillerkaar