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Festival History

Song and Dance Festival Origins

The Latvian community has been a part of the cultural mosaic of Grand Rapids since 1949, when the generosity of local citizens and congregations offered refuge and sponsorship to Latvian families from Displaced Persons camps in Germany. Soviet occupation of the Baltic States had resulted in forced emigration. Thousands of Latvians lived scattered throughout the Displaced Persons camps. Valka camp, not far from Nurnberg, was home to a group of musical Latvian refugees, who established a choir known as the Shield of Songs (Dziesmu Vairogs). Similar choirs and folk dance groups were established in other camps as well.

 

Immigrating to the United States

The kindness of Grand Rapids natives resulted in the sponsorship of all the participants of the Shield of Songs and their families. Latvian families welcomed the opportunity to start anew in Michigan – learning to speak, read and write the English language, working, advancing education, earning citizenship. They are forever grateful for the kindness of their neighbors and the freedom of this nation.

Traditions Carry On

With the future of Latvia unknown following WWII, the challenge of preserving cultural identity and the Latvian language became real. Song and dance gatherings had served as a source of strength during the refugee days of the Displaced Persons camps, and the traditions continued upon immigration to America with the first Latvian Song Festival being held in Chicago in 1953. Even though the Baltic countries reclaimed their independence in 1990, these festivals outside of Latvia have continued.

Present-day

Now, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those first refugees have been selected to host the XVI Latvian Song and Dance Festival in Grand Rapids, July 1-5, 2026. We hope to share our rich heritage with the Grand Rapids community as well as our Latvian friends and family who will travel from all corners the United States, Canada and Europe to attend.

As America prepares to celebrate its 250th birthday, we as members of this wonderful community known as Grand Rapids, welcome the opportunity to share a piece of ourselves, and pause to give thanks for the freedom provided to us and the cultural richness of the United States of America.

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