Dancing from Wisconsin to Washington

Stoughton, Wisconsin, high school Norwegian Dancers perform in Ballard this March

Photo courtesy of Leif Erikson Lodge The Norwegian Dancers are goodwill ambassadors who have danced for millions of people.

Photo courtesy of Leif Erikson Lodge
The Norwegian Dancers are goodwill ambassadors who have danced for millions of people.

Special Release
Leif Erikson Lodge

Leif Erikson Lodge and Leikarringen of Leif Erikson Lodge, Sons of Norway, are proud to sponsor the Norwegian Dancers of Stoughton, Wis., on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at 7:00 p.m. This lively group of high schoolers present the dances of Scandinavia at Leif Erikson Hall, 2245 NW 57th, Seattle, WA 98107. Donation at the door.

In 1952, Stoughton, Wis., held its first Syttende Mai celebration. This recognition of the Norwegian Constitution Day was to become a tradition in the community. Albert Molderhauer was the administrator of the schools at the time. He was of German ancestry but felt that because the area was primarily populated with second and third generation Norwegians, the schools should support ethnic pride in Stoughton.

He approached Jeanne Reek (English ancestry), the girls’ physical education teacher, and prevailed upon her to begin a Norwegian dance group that would be expected to perform during future Syttende Mai celebrations. Reek was reluctant, as she had limited folk dance background and little knowledge of Norway and its customs. However, because she was convinced of the value of such a group, she began the program by choosing six girls who in turn chose their partners to form the first group.

The group began by practicing during their lunch hour. In order to put in more time, they began holding practices at 7:00 a.m. Since the early years, the group has grown to 20 dancers and three keyboardists.

By the third year of their existence, the interest of the school and community grew to such extent that Reek felt she must uncover all there was to know about Norway and its customs. She advanced the performance level of the troop through talks and interviews with Norwegians, but found very little recorded information about folk dancing. In the summer of 1964, she went to Norway to gather information firsthand. She spent seven weeks there filming folk dances, getting translations to accompany the films, exploring costume shops, and taping music.

Other people in the community helped in developing these authentic folk performances. Shirley Ralph (Welch ancestry) has worked on recording on paper the music to accompany the dancers. In the beginning years, accordions were used, but today, the dancers are accompanied by keyboardists. Alma Tenjem played an important role in copying, designing, embroidering, and constructing costumes. The first costumes were all handmade in Stoughton with materials available in the U.S. Today, the bunads continue to be constructed in Stoughton, but all the patterns, fabrics, and threads are imported from Norway so that all the bunads are authentically Norwegian. Even the shoes and jewelry are imported! The girls wear bunads representing different districts in Norway, while the guys all wear the same.

With the support and assistance of community members, school personnel, and parents, the Stoughton Norwegian Dancers have become “goodwill ambassadors” who have performed for millions of people. Each spring they go on tour to a different part of the country. In 1968 they were asked to dance for King Olaf of Norway when he visited Madison. Another highlight in the Dancers’ career came when they were invited to perform in Norway in Bergen and Oslo.

Each year many students in Stoughton try out for the nine to 10 vacancies in the group left by graduating seniors. Being a Norwegian Dancer is held in high regard among the students and community. The group is pleased to have the opportunity to bring a little of the traditions of Norway to you.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 19, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

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