The Nordic Ball – Decades of dancing, with more to come

Our guest blog is by Kari Tauring. Kari is a musician and Nordic Roots educator who has worked to keep Nordic traditions alive and thriving. We’ve been honored to have her teach at Ingebretsen’s and we are pleased to be supporters of the upcoming Nordic Ball. “The Nordic Ball?” you ask. Kari, with help from one of the Ball’s founders, John White, will fill you in:

The 42nd Annual Nordic Ball takes place on Saturday February 9th, 2019 at the Ukrainian American Center, 301 Northeast Main Street, Minneapolis, MN. Doors open at 5 pm with music from Hütenänny, up from Northfield and 12 other musical groups until 11 pm including Finn Hall. This year, the ASI Spelmanslag is sending 24 violins to play 45 minutes worth of Swedish dance tunes! We are highlighting Norway’s national instrument, the Hardingfele or Hardanger Fiddle, and the dances that go with the instrument. Rachel Ulvin Jensen will be playing running tunes called Springar from Telemark and Becky Weis, tunes from Valdres. The Twin Cities Hardinfelelag will play a variety of Norwegian dance tunes.

Ole Olsson’s Oldtime Orkestra is coming down from Brainerd. There will be special Nordic cocktails at the cash bar and, of course, dancing. At 6:30 the Twin Cities Nyckelharpalag will play for the Grand March, a slow and regal walking dance that everyone can participate in. (Please see the video above for the 2008 Grand March, with Hütenänny performing.)

Ballade and the Danebrog dancers will lead us in mixers, dances taught on the spot for all ages and abilities. This year, the Twin Cities Norwegian folk dance club Det Norske Folkedanslaget is hosting and will lead everyone in singing Vi Skaaler (a toasting song), Takk for Maten (thanks for the meal song), and Lev Vel, (good night and thanks for dancing song).

We will have Norwegian treats such as lefse, pickled herring, and krumkake. Ingebretsen’s has donated Gudbrandsdal brown cheese (gjetost) and a Taste of Scandinavia is providing traditional cream cakes. Come in fancy dress, folk-like costumes, or heirloom folk drakt/bunad from your family of origin. This is a chance to celebrate all things Nordic!

2019 Nordic Ball posterJPG

I have only been involved in the traditional Nordic folk music and dance community since 2006, so I have been curious about the history of it all. According to community elder John White, “It began as the “All-Scandinavian Ball” on June 11, 1977 but the real first one was in the fall of 1976.” Go back a bit further when a young John White was studying at UW Washington from 1970 – 1972. Seattle had a healthy Scandinavian folk music and dance scene so John joined the group Skandia under Gordon Tracie who ran weekly dances and lessons which continues to this day. Skandia hosted a terrific ball where they danced until midnight and a separate ticket was sold for the after party until 2 am!

1977 First Nordic Ball program inside
The program of the first Nordic Ball in 1977, back when you had to type your program and carefully add the diacritical marks by hand.

John moved to Minneapolis in September 1975 and joined the Danebrog Dancers (still meeting at the Danish American Institute) where he met his wife Sandy (Gordon) White (married in 1978). There were six active dance groups including three Norwegian groups, Nidaros Lodge, a Sons of Norway group led by James Netland, Norønna Leikarring, a performance group led by Hilda Kringstad, and Det Norske Folkedanslaget, the Norwegian Folk dance club led by Ester Nordby (still active and led by Carol Sersland), the Twin Cities Swedish Dancers led by Jim and Lorraine McGrath (still active and led by Elise Peters), Kisarit Finnish Folk Dancers led by Oiva Ylönen (still active and led by Kathy Jackson) and, of course, Danebrog Folk Dancers led by  DorothyWesson (still active and led in turns by Sandy White and Sarah Maas and others).

According to John, the groups would always see one another dancing at events but never had a chance to dance together. So he and Dorothy Wesson devised a dance season kick-off event for all of the Scandinavian groups to meet and greet and show one another their specific cultural dances. Each group performed for one another and then had a social dance. They had a ball in the fall of 1976 but the first official one was held in June of 1977 and the second annual was then in the fall of 1978.

Each group had their own musicians that played for their groups but there were not as many folk music groups then as there are today so they relied on record albums to fill in the music for the evening of dancing. The first few years the ball was held at the Gustavus Adolphus Hall on 16th and East Lake, kitty corner from Ingebretsens Scandinavian Food and Gifts. It was gutted by a fire on January 16, 2004, then demolished.

Remember now, the 1970’s saw a huge resurgence in folk music and dance. An informal story-keeper of the West Bank with whom I spoke said, “The 1970s were a time when the children and grandchildren of immigrants were embracing and exploring  their heritage. The previous generations had worked to become more American. Their children,

Anne-Charlotte Harvey
Anne-Charlotte Harvey was the featured vocalist at many of the Snoose Boulevard festivals.

confident in who they were, wanted to explore their past. The folk music revival of the decade blossomed in the Twin Cities, and the Snoose Boulevard Festival  celebrated the Scandinavian roots of the neighborhood. The festival ran from 1972 to 1977 and was located in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, also known as the West Bank. Up to 14,000 people attended, including bus loads of Finnish-Americans coming down from the Iron Range for a chance to dance. The City of Minneapolis, nervous about any activity it couldn’t control, especially in the hippie-laden university area, made it difficult for the festival to continue. That didn’t stop the dancing, though.”

The Finnish dance group Kisarit kept the dancing, and the food, going when they sponsored the All Scandinavian Ball. They provided all the food rather than having a pot luck. Each group did a 3-dance presentation and then invited everyone to participate.

Music for general dancing was provided by Leroy Larson and the Minnesota Scandinavian Ensemble. For a number of years, Dick Rees, long-time producer of KFAI‘s Scandinavian Cultural Hour, was the sound person and his music group played at several balls. Other musical groups were featured in later years.

The Nordivas, Carol Sersland, Mary Klockeman, Arna Rennan and Kari Tauring perform vocalized Scandinavian dance music. From Roros Pols to schottische – Telespringar to waltz, Nordivas inspire the body to move in a Nordic way. Hear them at the 2019 Nordic Ball.

“Then we started to take turns hosting,” remembers John. “In early years whichever group was sponsoring sent representation from their group to the other groups to teach a dance of their specific culture. It was great fun and just kept on going.” He muses that there was a special box of Ritz crackers (unopened) that passed between hosting groups like a torch. It got lost at some point.

Kari and John White
Kari with John White

In the 5th or 6th year they started changing venues. There was Murzyn Hall in Colombia Heights, the Polish Center in North East, Baltic Ballroom at the Latvian Hall (the Dovre Hall on Central Avenue), the International Institute, and the Ukrainian American Center (where we will host it this year). One year Jim and Lorraine McGrath (TC Swedish Dancers) teamed teamed up with a “recreational dance instructors convention” happening that year at the Thunderbird Hotel. Over 300 people came to the ball that year!

In 1990 and again in 1994, Kisaret held the ball in February, in conjunction with Laskiainen (Finnish Mardi Gras), for rich food and winter frolic. In a sledding tradition, longer your sled went down the hill the more luck you would have in the coming year. The ball began to get thematic so there was a Hösttakkefest (Harvest Thanks Fest), Talvi Juhla (Winter Fest), a celebration of Hans Christian Andersen’s Bicentennial in 2005, Karhun Juhla (Bear chasing winter away), 2006 Nordic Ball program Bear theme insideThe 50th Anniversary of Det Norskefolkedanslaget in 2007, and Danish Fastelaven (their Mardi Gras) when the cat is beaten out of the barrel in 2009. We didn’t have an actual cat as I recall. This was my first year at the ball and went to the in black silk and a replica Scandinavian Bronze Age string apron!

1990 Program Sledding info

A significant change happened in 2004 when the “All-Scandinavian Ball” became the “Nordic Ball.” Modern language, culture, and identity was changing in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Because Finland is a Finno-Ugric language and culture, it was no longer included in the moniker of “Scandinavian.” Nordic became the terminology to include Finland’s unique place in the culture and traditions of neighboring countries.

The first time I helped host was 2011, as a new member of Norskefolkedanslaget when it was at Sokol Czech Hall . I was on clean up crew. In 2015, the date coincided with King Harold of Norway’s birthday. Members of the community joined in singing happy birthday in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, and Danish. Joyce Hanson made a life sized representation of HRH for photo opps. Many of us remember 2015 because we ran out fresh coffee for 20 minutes. This year, 2019, we have a whole team on it.

HRH Nordi Ball photo
The 2015 crew posing with King Harald (very last row, almost center).

In 2017 and 2018 the original organizers brought the ball home. Danebrog Dancers hosted it at the Danish American Center and in 2018, Kisarit hosted with soup for all. This year our emphasis is on getting more people to fall in love with the music and dancing of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. So the teaching component is essential. Carol Sersland and I got some ball-prep dances for “Absolute Beginners” together at the Danish American Center.

John’s friends in Norway report that “the youth in Norway (late teens and early twenties) are coming back to the folk dancing.”  Young folks in Minnesota are also re-discovering the root dances of some of the first immigrants to Minnesota from the Nordic countries so we are hosting a spring season of absolute beginner dances in preparation for Nisswastämman, the dance and music festival held in June up in Nisswa, Minnesota!

I hope you will join us in this year’s 42nd annual Nordic Ball. “The first year was $1.50 per ticket,” muses John. “Year two $2.00 third year $3 and 4th year was $4, At this rate we should be charging $43!”  But it’s only $25 advance and $30 at the door. What a deal! And if you do come, you will have some inside information for conversations. First, these cultural dances and the music that inspires them have a long and lively tradition in the Twin Cities. And second, it is really the 43rd annual!

If you are new to the Nordic Ball and would like a primer on the etiquette, Kari has provided the following so you will know just what to do, which is very reassuring:

The Etiquette of a Ball!

A Ball is more than just a regular social dance. It has a schedule of events, sometimes a theme (such as costumed ball), and usually has food and drink as part of the celebration.


When you arrive, find the coat and boot room and change into clean shoes for the dance floor. A wooden dance floor is a treasure and expensive to maintain. Make sure your shoes are clean so no grit or dirt gauges the floor and no water drips on the floor. A good choice of shoes for Scandinavian dance is leather bottomed shoes with a low heel. A bowling shoe is a great option! If you happen to arrive without an extra pair of shoes, be sure to wipe them off before heading to the dance floor.

Other Clothing

Because this is a Nordic ball, you may wear heritage folk costumes, fantasy folk costumes, or just dress nicely. If you do not belong to a Nordic ethnic group, you may still wear something that speaks to the culture such as a Norwegian sweater. You will not be appropriating if you do. If you are planning to dance the B or Follower or traditional women’s part, you may want to find a skirt that swings wide. With so many turning dances a broad skirt is so beautiful.

The Grand March

This is an elegant and stately walking dance meant to give every participant an opportunity to smile at and greet every other participant. If there are elders who need help, consider being their partner. If there are parents with small children, consider asking them if they need help. If someone is sitting out, ask them to join in. There is no “partner” per se, but we walk in pairs and join other pairs. Listen to the music and walk in time with it.

Mixer Dances

Mixers require partnerships, one person who is A or Leader, and one person who is B or Follower. If you are holding your hands palms up to receive another hand, you are A or Leader. You should have someone on either side of you with their palms down, giving their hands to the A on either side of them.

In different mixers, the B part often moves from one A to the next (hence mixing up the pairs). This type of dance gives people the opportunity to dance with a variety of people for short intervals during a song.

Chaining is a part of many mixers. The A person turns to their partner on the right and extends their right hand to move counter clockwise around the circle – the B person turns to their partner on the left and extends their right hand moving clockwise around the circle. In a “hand shake” the dancers pull past one another reaching out their left hands to the next dancer, pulling past them and reaching to the next one with the right, thus forming a chain of motion.

If, during the mixer, things get messed up and you wind up without a partner go to the center of the circle where you will find others who are without partners. Decide who is A and who is B then re-join the circle. Mixers are for fun and frolic and to warm up for the rest of the dancing!

Paired Dances

Dances like a polka or waltz require two people to dance. Often the band will announce the type of dance they are about to play. If you know how to do that kind of dance, don’t hesitate to ask someone to dance with you. If you are asked to dance and you know how to do it, say yes! If you don’t know how to do the dance, let the asker know and they may decide they are good enough for both of you! Saying yes to dancing is a good habit. Both women and men may ask each other to dance. We live in gender fluid times so do not hesitate to lead or follow, just dance!

Sometimes a ball will provide a written list of the bands and the types of songs they are going to play. This list can be used as a “Dance Card” wherein you find the people you want to dance with and put each other’s names beside the dance on the list. The phrase “my dance card is full” comes from literally filling each dance with someone’s name with whom you are scheduled to dance.

Not Dancing

It is ok if after the Grand March you just want to watch and listen to the music. No one is likely to ask you to dance if you have a plate of food or a drink in your hand. Likewise, you may want to take your shoes off and simply point at your feet saying, “no thank you. I am all done.”


Alcohol is often served at a ball or social dance. It is best to keep food and drink off the dance floor. Spills can be dangerous for other dancers. A drink or two can loosen us up for dancing, but too much drink can lead to falls and other dangers. There is usually a place to sit away from the music and dance floor to collect yourself if you need to rest.


In every folk culture it is important to see that elders are served food first, then parents with small children. It is also courteous to be sure everyone has gone through the food line once before going back for seconds. If there is food left over, sometimes it is sold or given to those who have traveled the farthest to get to the ball. This will be announced.

At the End

The final dance in Nordic social dances is called langdans (long dance). Like the Grand March, it is a slow and stately side step dance that every single person is welcomed to join in. Each person holds their left palm up to receive and their right palm down to give to the person next to them. The dance is often sung or hummed. Feel free to join in with humming if you don’t know the words, or with a “drone tone” if you don’t know the tune. The line moves in a slow clockwise (with the sun) side step and the lights are dimmed.

When the ball is over it is courteous to help throw any trash away.  Make sure you have all of your belongings and pick up any flyers for upcoming dances! Travel home safely. Have a god and peaceful night. And thanks for dancing!

(Finn Hall will be playing at the Nordic Ball. Enjoy a sample of their music below)