About this time eleven years ago, I was having a conniption fit. It was the day before my wedding and I had no qualms about marrying the P-Dawg, but the hem of my gown was crooked when I went for my final fitting and the traditional Lithuanian dances I had planned for the reception were keeping me up at night.
It’s not enough for a Baltic maiden to fret over her gown and her flowers and her vows and her seating arrangement. She must also coerce eight to twelve of her closest relatives and friends to dress up in their national costumes and perform a minimum of two carefully choreographed traditional wedding dances in front of the assembled guests.
Someone must be recruited to teach the dances, the dancers must track down and squeeze themselves into national outfits for which they were fitted when they were sixteen, and rehearsals must be held. It’s a fair amount of hassle, but the ten minutes of entertainment it translates to during the wedding reception is priceless, indeed.
The first dance – Sadut? – is a formal farewell to the bride from her closest female friends. She wears a wreath made out of rue (national herb of Lithuania which symbolizes chastity and is poisonous to boot). The music is slow and solemn as the women weave patterns and dance in a circle around their friend. They end by kissing her on the cheek in turn and giving her a single flower as a gesture of goodbye.
The dance is kind of sad.
At the end of it, the bride’s mother is supposed to remove her wreath of rue and replace it with a matronly kerchief, which symbolizes the end of maidenhood. The good times are now officially over and the young married woman can look forward to weaving textiles and peeling potatoes until the end of her days.
My mother and I decided to forgo this tradition, choosing instead to launch directly into the happy wedding maypole dance – Rezgin?l?.
Both newlyweds and all of their friends, male and female, participate in this dance, which begins with the bride and groom dancing in circles apart from each other to a slowish beat. Then suddenly the music picks up in tempo, and the male and female groups join together with the bride and groom in their center holding traditional woven sashes aloft.
Next comes the part that can make or break the marriage: the friends must dance around the newlyweds with men and women moving quickly in opposite directions and weaving the sashes over and under, then reversing their steps to undo the knot. The pace is lightning quick, everyone’s been drinking krupnikas (home-made honey liqueur) since five o’clock, and no one can ever remember who is supposed to turn which way first. It never fails that during rehearsals, at least one hapless dancer pivots in the wrong direction and crashes into the person next to them, thereby messing up “the knot.”
There is great pressure when the dance is performed during the reception not to screw up. The dancers hiss commands at each other leading up to the maypole moment and the audience sits on pins and needles, holding their breath. The question on everyone’s mind is, “Will the sashes intertwine evenly, or will the marriage fall apart?”
If the maypole weaving is successful, happiness abounds and there is whooping and hollering from the dancers and audience alike.
If you think this sort of thing was stressful for me and my folk dancing friends, just think what must have been going through the mind of the Irish-American P-Dawg, who had learned the basic two-step the night before last.
But despite all of our botched practice runs (“Other way! OTHER WAY, PEOPLE! Okay, now girls go in and guys bow out. Reverse! REVERSE!”) no one ended up with a concussion and the P-Dawg’s and my knot turned out (more or less) right.
Later he told me it was the single most frightening experience of his entire life.
(Happy anniversary, P-Dawg! I love you from the bottom of my heart.)
P.S. The hem was fixed. I was late for my wedding rehearsal, but the gown was fixed.Did you like this? Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)