Latvian folk dance has its origins in the traditions of the Baltic tribes that arrived in the Baltic region in approximately 2000 BC. Dances portray the day-to-day life of rural communities (sowing, harvesting, fishing) as well as specific events (courtship, marriage, birth) and reflect the surroundings important to Baltic culture (animals, birds, nature in general, the changes of the seasons).
Over time, these folk dances were formalized into choreographed presentations based on traditional dance patterns. Dancers wear folk costumes made of wool and linen. The decorative elements incorporate the signs of ancient, pre-Christianity deities and the costumes are chosen to represent specific areas of Latvia where a dancer’s family has its origins. The woman’s marital status is shown by her headdress.
Most dances are performed with a partner in four or more couple formations. Steps are based on variations of the polka and gallop. Switching partners provides an opportunity for dancers to become acquainted with others in social settings. To this day in Latvia (and in Latvian communities around the world) the age-old customs are passed on to new generations through dance forms combining the interaction of traditions with artistic creativity.
Latvian folk dance also provides fun and entertainment for performers and guests at social gatherings, weddings and traditional festivals such as Jani (the summer solstice). The Song and Dance festivals (dating back to 1873) provide a forum in which dance groups from far and wide can show off their imagination and skills. The intricate dance patterns and the colorful costumes are great to watch and fun to perform.