Monday, November 10, 2008

Lithuanian Dance and Costume

On a Sunday afternoon, October 19th, I sat with a cup of coffee, thoroughly enjoying the quiet that surrounded me. I decided to look through a few of the flyers that I had picked up at the tourist office in Verona, and was pleased to discover that a Lithuanian Dance Group would be performing down in Piazza Bra later in the afternoon. So, I organized the remainder of my day so that I could go to the piazza, watch the group perform, and hopefully be allowed to photograph their costumes. What a stroke a luck, as this would fit in with my current research on World Costume.

The dance ensemble performing is known as Zelmeneliai. The founder of the group and ballet master is Aldona Maseniene. The Zelmeneliai is a dance training school for boys and girls from the age of 5 to 18 who attend in their free time. Both children and parents dance and they learn about Lithuanian folklore, scenic dances, classical dances, ballroom dancing and the dance of other nations as well. The name Zelmeneliai derives its name from the process of how a farmer sows a seed into the soil and hopes for a good harvest. Parents take their children into the group and hope that dance will aid them to grow up healthy, kind-hearted and beautiful.

When I arrived in the Piazza, it was crowded and full of activity. Everywhere you looked, you could watch families strolling, walking through the various booths that were set up to promote the local area and other parts of Europe.

It wasn’t hard to find the Lithuanian group, as their costumes were striking; full of color and intricate handwork. I introduced myself, and asked if anyone spoke English (as even my basic Italian wasn’t going to help me in this case). I met Gintautas Saulis and through her, permission was granted, so I set to work. I was in heaven. The group was composed of men, women, young adults and children.

Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity, and the next thing I knew, the group was preparing to perform. The dancing began. I have never witnessed folk dance of this type, and I photographed as much as I could. Their dance was a mixture of ballet, waltz, polka, and other steps. It was graceful, and poetic; one could often understand the story being presented. The costumes, as you can see from the pictures here were simply beautiful.

Men’s Costume

The men wore black coats, fitted to the waist, and cut with a fantastic pleated skirt (see how it swirled in the dance). The coats had stand-up, embroidered collars. Other costume pieces consisted of gray ankle-length pants, white shirts, plaid waistcoats, and various types of colorful neck cloths. Black hats and vibrant waist sashes provided the perfect finishing touch.

Women’s Costume

The costume of the women varied, according to the region of Lithuania from which it originated. Beautiful white blouses with varying cuts were worn under a waistcoat (vest) Most of the vests bodices were solid color, although a braid trim was often used. A skirt (generally striped or plaid) was worn over petticoats and typically, a white apron completed the ensemble. Most aprons utilized amazing handwork, typically pulled thread-work and embroidery. The head dress of the women was the most unique part of their outfit. If you look at the image here, you can see the variety.

Costume worn by the young people mimicked the adults. Yet, the boys’ jackets were brightly colored (as opposed to black) and the vests of the young girls were generally dark and laced up the front. the head caps of the young girls were unique. They were crocheted.

I arranged to meet with members of the group the next day, so I could give them a copy of all the images I took. They definitely looked different in their street clothes! They were lovely, and I am honored to have been allowed to photograph them, and to be able to give back to them, in exchange for the lovely images I have brought home with me to share with my students.

I have said it before, and I am sure I will say it again. The amount of love, care and handwork that goes into folk costume of the world is boggling. We must cherish the textile arts that are part of our heritage, and always keep them alive.

Thank you to the Zelmeneliai Dance Ensemble for sharing with me. Their contact is

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