MARY JO DOWSETT
Brisbane’s Scandinavian Festival is back for its eighth consecutive year on Sunday and visitors to the event can look forward to a diverse range of cultural offerings including Estonian craft beer, Finnish cuisine, Danish folk dancing, Baltic singing and even some Vikings.
The event brings together the culture of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia and Latvia, and boasts traditional food and drinks, music, and even stories and entertainment courtesy of Queensland’s Saga Vikings.
Scandinavian Festival president Esmée Okamoto has been involved with the event since it was founded in 2012, and said she started out as a performer at the festival.
“This is my third year as the festival president, previous to which I was always performing,” Ms Okamoto said.
“It’s so much fun and it’s a fabulous way for our different community groups to connect and it brings us together,” she said.
Ms Okamoto said the Scandinavian Festival was all about people getting together and celebrating and keeping cultures alive, even if it’s not your own culture.
“I just love keeping cultures alive through food, dancing, art and just sharing the job of music, you know,” she said.
“For me, it’s all about that.”
Ms Okamoto said members didn’t have to be Scandinavian to be involved in the festival.
“Not all of our members even have that [Scandinavian] background; we’ve got people from England, New Zealand, Russia, so people are just sharing a passion,” she said.
“Same with the folk-dance group; it’s not that you have to have a Danish background, everyone [in the group] just has a passion for learning folk dancing.”
Ms Okamoto said the one-day festival would host a range of activities that the whole family could get involved in.
“For those who love participating, we have dance workshops and we’ve got choirs coming along, so it’s a great opportunity to embrace something unusual and participate, have fun, and perhaps then want to go and join one of these groups later,” she said.
However, there are plenty of options available for those who prefer to just observe.
“We have a cultural tent where people can participate by just sitting down and listening all day, it doesn’t have to be interactive,” Ms Okamoto said.
Weekly and fortnightly rehearsals prepare the Danish folk dancers and the Baltic Choir for their 30-minute-long performances.
“Danish folk dancing runs pretty much every fortnight and the Baltic Choir is every week, every Saturday, so it’s about showcasing our talents, bringing them out and sharing them, and hopefully enticing people to participate, not just on the day, but in the future as well,” she said.
Danish Folk Dance group founder Lis Larsen started the group after migrating to Brisbane in the early 1990s, and said the group had been dressing up in traditional clothing and dancing up a storm for 27 years.
“We started in 1992 and we started with a few Danes who were married to Australians,” Ms Larsen said.
“We were only 12 starting out and now we are around 38,” she said.
“It was my husband and me that actually started the group, because we were dancing a little bit of folk dancing back in Denmark before we migrated out here.”
“We still love doing it, we’ve made a lot of great friends through this group.”
Despite being a Danish dance group, Ms Larsen said a variety of cultures and ethnic backgrounds were included in the group.
“We are a very multicultural group, we have a lot of different ethnic backgrounds, so we are certainly not only Danes anymore, but we all share the same interests for dancing,” she said.
Ms Larsen said the Scandinavian Festival was all about exposing visitors to the traditional aspects of the Scandinavian cultures, including folk dance and costumes.
“We will be all dressed up in the traditional costumes that they wore in the 1800s and we usually have a few participation dances so people can come up and have a go on the day,” she said.
The Baltic Choir also has a long history in Brisbane, having started in the 1950s.
Baltic Choir leader Ruth Gabriel said the group originally began singing purely Latvian songs before combining Estonian and Lithuanian songs into their performances.
“The choir started in the 1950s just singing Latvian songs and then other people joined and it just grew,” Ms Gabriel said.
“On Sunday we’re going to be representing three countries [with] some Estonian songs, some Latvian songs, and some Lithuanian songs.”
Ms Gabriel said she had only been part of the Baltic Choir for four years, but had since fallen in love with the entire experience.
“Friends of mine one day said: ‘come and hear our Baltic Choir concert’, so I went along and it was just so different and so I decided to join,” she said.
“And it’s been four years now and I just really love it, and for me it’s the challenge, learning how to pronounce the languages.”
Ms Okamoto said each of the six countries represented at the festival had at least one stall, providing visitors with an array of crafts and cuisine to try.
“Each of our six countries has at least one stall, some have two, so, for example, the Estonian one we have one stall dedicated to the food where we’ve got soup, pork skewers and potato salad, and Estonian craft beer,” she said.
“And in our other stall is our arts and crafts.”
“One of our girls does beautiful Estonian style embroidery on clothes and she makes hand crocheted toys with a Scandinavian theme.”
“Embracing the food, enjoying the good craft beer, doing some dancing, making a floral crown – that’s our big thing this year,” Ms Gabriel said.
The Baltic Choir will take the stage at around 10am, and the Danish Folk Dance group will perform at 10:45am.
The Scandinavian Festival takes place on Sunday September 8 from 10am to 4pm.
Entry to the festival requires a gold coin donation.
Visit their website for more information about the festival.