Dancing for decades

Leikarringen “Heimhug” celebrates 90 years of folk dancing and friendship in a special performance this October

Photo courtesy of Leikarringen Heimhug The “Heimhug” family poses for a group portrait.

Photo courtesy of Leikarringen Heimhug
The “Heimhug” family poses for a group portrait.

Nancy Andersen

What could give a better glimpse of Norwegian folk culture in action than a good folk dance group? Leikarringen “Heimhug” has been doing just that for 90 years now, in the Chicago area and many other locations. Leikarringen “Heimhug,” founded in 1925, is the oldest Scandinavian dance group in the Chicago area. “Leikarringen” means “ring dance,” and “Heimhug” is a longing for home, the feeling experienced by the Norwegian immigrants who originally formed the group.

Most of the Leikarringen “Heimhug” members are of Norwegian heritage, but they welcome anyone who would like to learn Scandinavian dances. Dance experience is not necessary. Their costumes are all authentic folk costumes, mostly “bunads” (folk costumes) representing various regions of Norway, but also a few Danish and Swedish costumes.

Leikarringen “Heimhug” tries to keep their repertory as authentic as possible. Some dances are learned from research, or from guest instructors, but they say the best way to learn is from dance groups visiting from Norway. Most of their dances are Norwegian, but they also perform dances from other Scandinavian countries. A new twist is their “Nygammel” (“New old”) dances, which they have choreographed to go with new versions of old folk tunes.

The first thing viewers notice after seeing their beautiful costumes and their confident execution of various dances is that they are having fun! And the dancers’ enjoyment of what they are doing is infectious: smiles spread across the watching crowd, heads nod and toes start tapping. Karl Pearson, dancer and dance instructor for the group, states, “In order for the group to be successful it must have fun… If you have a passion for what you do, it shows.”

Photo: Arthur Andersen

Photo: Arthur Andersen

Folk dancing and Leikarringen “Heimhug” have actually brought about some romantic connections over the years. Lynn and Tom Maxson laughingly told me that when they met years ago at a Sons of Norway International Convention, they danced, he stepped on her toes a few times, and she told him, “You’re the worst dancer I ever met!” Later, he was convinced to join Leikarringen “Heimhug” and learned to dance from patient members, and no one could ever guess that he was once less than polished. Two other couples in the current group found their mates through the dance group. In fact, Karl Pearson was lured away from another dance group by a fascinating young lady dancer in a green bunad, who would become his wife, Glenna.

The theme, past and present, has been having fun as well as preserving their Norwegian heritage. Barbra Kronborg-Mogil recounted that she and her sister joined as teenagers, and that some members have been with the group through raising their children and even dancing as a group at their children’s weddings. The dancers meld into a kind of family, supportive of each other in tough times and celebrating good occasions together.

The current dancers tell of wonderful experiences with Leikarringen “Heimhug.” They have performed at many different Scandinavian festivals throughout the Midwest. Current president Tom Maxson recounted how the group performed at Navy Pier in Chicago and was asked to serve as a color guard for a visiting Tall Ship from Norway, after which they met then-Mayor Daley. Another time, at a Wheaton College concert, they performed to some of Edvard Grieg’s Norwegian Dances. Every year they are the face of Norway, dancing at the “Christmas Around the World” event at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Leikarringen “Heimhug” will celebrate their 90th anniversary on Sunday, October 11, 2015, with a performance, dinner, and dancing to live music. If you would like to help them celebrate, search the group online, download the reservation form, and send it with payment by October 3.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 2, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.