Norwegian Folk Dance

It’s no secret that Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my historic sites mystery series, loves folk dancing. In the second book, The Heirloom Murders, she dances with her Swiss ex, Markus.

The 10th book, Fiddling With Fate, reveals that she was a member of Stoughton High School’s Norwegian Dancers group. (Stoughton, WI, is well known for its Norwegian heritage.)

The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers formed in 1953 to help foster ethnic pride in the community.

Scrapbook with Yearbook photo. (Stoughton Public Library)

Those early years were challenging. Jeanne Reek, the first director, had no experience with folk dance or Norwegian heritage. Money for costumes or travel was minimal.

But the group was something special. The director traveled to Norway to learn all she could about traditional dance. The dancers’ parents organized to raise funds. The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers quickly became a beloved community institution.

That story is part of Chloe’s background.

1967-68 Stoughton Norwegian Dancers (Stoughton Public Library)

I planned Fiddling With Fate with the premise that a research expedition takes her to Norway. What would appeal to her more than learning about folk dance and music?

This travel poster beautifully captures the romance of Norwegian folk dance. (Artist unknown)

Once in Norway, Chloe finds plenty of information about traditional dances. However, she’s interested in more than documenting dance steps and styles. Here’s a scene where she and Roelke McKenna, her fiancé, visit an old dance site:

“There’s the platform.”  Roelke strode over to inspect the crumbling wooden structure.  “What’s left of it, anyway.  Do not try to climb on that.”

Already enchanted, Chloe didn’t need to climb on anything.  She quivered with the joyful energy left by generations of people who’d barely scraped a living from the rugged landscape.  This is what I need to capture back in Stoughton, she thought. How important music and dance were to rural people who worked hard for every morsel.  

I think about that every time I watch a folk dance performance. In fact, when I recently watched the Stoughton Norwegian Dancers perform for Syttende Mai (Constitution Day), I got a little emotional.

The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.
Always a crowd pleaser!

One dance, the Halling, lets boys show off their athletic ability in hopes of impressing the girls.

The Halling ends with a particular feat. A female dancer holds a hat high on a stick, and then male dancers attempt to kick it free.

Scrapbook, Stoughton Public Library.
The Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.

What would the early Norwegian immigrants have thought to know that over a century after their arrival, a group of high school students would work so hard to preserve and share this aspect of Norwegian heritage?

Scrapbook, Stoughton Public Library.

And that these beloved dance traditions are still enjoyed today?

Stoughton Norwegian Dancers, 2019.

I can only imagine they’d be pleased.

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Many thanks to Susan Slinde for sharing her memories of the Norwegian Dancers.

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6 Responses to “Norwegian Folk Dance”

  1. Nijole Etzwiler Says:

    I’ve seen the Stoughton dancers. They are fantastic!! Between that and Rosemaling, I revel in Norwegian folk arts. Can’t wait to read the new book.

  2. Susan Slinde Says:

    Three generations of Dancers thank you for telling our story. Susan, Stephanie, and Jenna

  3. Barb Voigt Says:

    I loved this post. Thanks Kathleen

    Barb

    ________________________________

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