The Dassel Leikarring seeks more members for its dance troupe
By Kristen Miller
DASSEL, COKATO, MN Leikarring, in Norwegian, means “to play in a circle.”
“That’s what it really is,” said Elaine Nordlie, dancer with the Dassel Leikarring troupe. “We’re playing and having fun.”
For the past 32 years, the Dassel Leikarring has been performing locally and across the Midwest, sharing the Scandinavian tradition of folk dancing.
Currently, there are 10 dancers in the Dassel Leikarring, but the group is opening it up to new members who are looking for a fun, social activity.
One doesn’t need a partner, or even know how to dance, said Nordlie, who recently became widowed after losing her husband, Kjell, to cancer in November.
In fact, it was the Nordlies who introduced folk dancing to the community of Dassel.
It was at a New Year’s Eve party in 1981, when the Nordlies were asked to demonstrate a folk dance to the group.
The others at the party wanted to learn some dance moves as well, and the Dassel Leikarring was born.
“They thought it was so much fun, that they wanted to meet the next week,” Nordlie said.
How it all began
Born and raised in southeastern Minnesota, Elaine attended what is now Winona State University.
In 1967-68, she traveled to Norway as an exchange student at the Oslo Teachers College.
To become more involved, she was encouraged by her host father to join the school’s folk dancing class.
On the first day of class, she met her future husband and dancing partner.
Coming from a strict Norwegian Lutheran community, Elaine was not accustomed to dancing. “We didn’t have proms, we didn’t have dances,” she said.
Despite not knowing how to dance, Elaine had a musical background. Therefore, the future music teacher didn’t have a problem following along with the rhythm. Kjell, however, had nine years of previous dancing experience.
In Norway, physical exercise and outdoor activities of varying forms are popular, including folk dancing.
“It’s not just skiing and soccer,” she commented.
Folk dancing is also used in Norway to teach boys manners and how to be graceful, Elaine explained.
Though Elaine admits it wasn’t love at first sight Kjell was her partner and translator in the class she and Kjell did fall in love during the course of the class.
The next year, she went back to Winona to finish classes and received a bachelor of science degree in music. The following summer, the couple married in her small rural church.
A month after the wedding, they moved back to Norway, where Kjell was a teacher at a girls’ group home. Elaine taught piano lessons and was the church organist.
After Kjell was drafted in the Norwegian air force every healthy man is eventually drafted, Elaine noted he became assistant superintendent on the base. He later became superintendent.
In the meantime, the Nordlies had three daughters, Catherine, Cecilie, and Christine.
In 1981, Kjell decided to take a hiatus from his stressful position and the family moved to Minnesota for a year. They also thought it would be a great opportunity for the girls to learn English and spend time with her family.
Prior to this, the couple had joined a Leikarring group in their town of Råde, Norway.
A few short months after their return to Minnesota was when the Nordlies first demonstrated their dances at her sister’s New Year’s Eve party.
Among the guests at the party were Carolyn and Dan Holje, both of whom are of Scandinavian descent and enjoy dancing.
“I thought it would be a fabulous idea,” Carolyn said. She and Dan were one of six couples to become the charter members of the Dassel Leikarring.
Their first public performance was at the Litchfield National Guard Armory that following spring, for the Syttende Mai Celebration, Norway’s declaration day that takes place May 17.
The troupe’s next public performance was that fall in Dassel for Red Rooster Days.
That same year during the Nordlies’ hiatus in Minnesota, their youngest, Christine, began suffering from a severe congenital heart defect and needed surgery.
When the family went back to Norway a year later, they found that even the best hospital in Oslo couldn’t provide the care that their daughter needed.
“What kind of future is she going to have here?” was the question the couple asked themselves.
They decided it was the best for their daughter if they were to move back to Minnesota permanently.
Upon their return to Dassel, the Nordlies found the folk dancing group was still active, however, they only knew three dances.
Many of the songs revolve around folk tales that tell a story through dances such as polkas, waltzes, mixers, reels, and schottisches.
“Norway has rich cultural history where there’s a lot of emphasis put on music, art, and literature,” Elaine said.
For example, the dance Per Spellman is about a boy named Per who sold a cow in order to buy a fiddle. Per became so good at fiddling, his music would make girls cry, Elaine explained.
Ronette Doering and husband Earl also were early dancers, and continue to this day.
Not only is it a fun group to be a part of for socializing and dancing, but it’s also good exercise, Ronette said, adding that she enjoys being able to learn more about her Scandinavian heritage.
Ronette also contributed to the troupe by designing its performance costumes.
Because there aren’t a lot of active Norwegian folk dancing groups in the US, the Dassel Leikarring is asked to perform around the country for various town festivals.
For Elaine, performing at Estes Park, CO has been a highlight for her. The group has performed there three times for the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival.
In May, Kjell performed his last dance with the group the 17th of May celebration in Minneapolis.
“Kjell and Elaine made it fun,” Ronette commented. “They always told us, ‘No two people walk alike, and no two people dance alike. That’s the freedom of the dance.’”
To experience the group
The Dassel Leikarring will gathering the second and fourth Sundays of the months of February, March, and April.
Individuals or partners interested in learning folk dance are encouraged to attend.
The lessons will take place at the Dassel History Center on CSAH 4, from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m.