Let’s have a Nordic Ball!

A Twin Cities tradition

 

Nordic Ball

Photo: Doug Bratland
Attendees of the 2019 Nordic Ball participate in the Grand March. This year’s ball is on April 20.

Synneva Bratland
Editorial Assistant
The Norwegian American

The Twin Cities have a rich history as a hub for Nordic culture in the United States. Decades of immigration have filled Minnesota and the surrounding states with the descendants of Norwegians, Swedes, Finns, and Danes. At the annual Nordic Ball, these cultures converge for a night of music, dance, and Nordic-American celebration.

The tradition began in 1977 and was originally dubbed the “All-Scandinavian Ball” (a moniker it kept until its change to the Nordic Ball in 2004). Now in its 45th year, it continues with that same pan-Nordic spirit. With Finnish food, Swedish fiddlers, Norwegian costumes, and Danish group dances, it’s an event that celebrates the diversity among and within these northern cultures.

That’s not to say that these are separate for the rest of the year—events like Duluth-stämman (formerly Nisswa-Stämman), the American Swedish Institute’s Midwinter Folk Fest, and monthly social dances at Tapestry Folkdance Center keep these traditions strong year-round.

The initial ball was organized as a kick-off event for the dance season, where all of the Twin Cities dance groups could come together to share their traditions.

The evening featured performances by a group representing each of the Nordic countries (and a second Norwegian group for good measure): Nidaros Lodge Norwegian group, Dannebrog Folkdancers, Twin Cities Swedish Dancers, Kisarit Finnish Folkdancers, and Det Norske Folkdanslaget (both Dannebrog and Kisarit are still active today, while the Swedish Dancers and Folkedanslaget have combined to form the Twin Cities Nordic Dancers). Each of these dance groups provided their own music, using a combination of live performances and recorded albums to fill the evening.

In the decades since the original ball, it has blossomed into a cherished tradition. More than just a gathering of dancers, the Nordic Ball is a chance for anyone to put on a bunad, folkdräkt, or kansallispuvut, for musicians to pull out their best dancing tunes, and for the whole Nordic community to gather for an evening of fun. Organizers Renee Vaughan, Kari Tauring, and Carol Sersland—three prominent members of the Nordic folk music and dance community in the Twin Cities—promise “a night bubbling with live music from amazing local bands and a whirlwind of dance.”

Hosted at the Ukrainian American Community Center in Minneapolis, the doors will open at 5 p.m., with the night’s music kicked off by the ASI Lilla Spelmanslag, a group of youth fiddlers from the American Swedish Institute. Throughout the night, music will continue with a variety of groups highlighting each of the Nordic countries.

At 6:30 p.m., the night’s emcee, Kip Peltoniemi, will deliver remarks. Peltoniemi, an old-time button accordion player, is a bit of a celebrity in the Finnish-American community, known for performances combining musical talent with humorous stories of his upbringing in the “Finnish Triangle” in northern Minnesota.

Immediately following those remarks, the Grand March will begin. Described by Tauring as “an elegant and stately walking dance,” the Grand March gives attendees a chance to showcase their outfits for the occasion, as well as greet the other dancers. The March also serves as a way to officially start the night’s dancing, getting attendees out on the dance floor.

At that point, the ball will be in full swing. Over the course of the five-and-a-half-hour schedule, there will be 25-minute sets performed by nine different local groups. These longer sets will also be interspersed with shorter “tweener sets” by eight additional duos and small groups.

While some of the dances they play will be classic and commonplace, such as waltzes, schottisches, or polkas, others will be more complex and locally specific, including røros­polses, sønderhonings, and slängpolksas.

As the night goes on, other group dances will take place, including Danish mixers, where dancers go through the same sequence of steps with a series of different partners. After Hütenänny plays the last set of the evening, the event will culminate in classic end-of-night Långdans, another slow and stately walking dance. Participants join hands in a long line that snakes around the room while singing a beautiful and almost haunting melody.

The night is not just about music and dancing, however. Along with admission to the event, a $30 ticket (free for anyone 17 and younger or a student with valid school ID) includes a traditional Finnish dinner. The menu will include Karelian beef stew or carrot/ginger soup, Karelian rye pockets with creamed rice filling, limpaa rye and other artisan breads, as well as fresh coffee and pulla rolls for dessert. There will also be a cash bar available throughout the evening.

The 45th annual Twin Cities Nordic Ball is sure to be an exciting evening filled with talented musicians, energetic dancers, and passionate members of the Nordic community, all gathered in Minneapolis for a good time. I’ll be there, dancing and fiddling in my green Nordlandsbunad, and as the organizers say, “no matter where you are on your journey with Nordic folk music and dance, you are warmly welcomed to join us!”

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Synneva Bratland

Synneva Bratland is the Editorial Assistant for The Norwegian American. Born and raised in Minnesota, she attended folkehøgskole outside of Oslo before receiving a dual degree in Norwegian and Mathematics from St. Olaf College. She currently lives in St. Paul, where she can be found playing Nordic folk music, instructing Norwegian language courses, and making art at her kitchen table.