Norwegian dancers in Payson

Mount Cross Lutheran Church hosts a performance by the Stoughton Wisconsin Norwegian Dancers at 6 p.m. Monday, March 25.

Join the congregation of Mount Cross Lutheran Church in welcoming the Stoughton Wisconsin Norwegian Dancers to Payson for a performance at 6 p.m., Monday, March 25.

The group’s program is in the log building of Mount Cross, 601 E. Highway 260.

The dancers will entertain with their traditional Scandinavian folk dances and authentic Norwegian bunads (costumes).

The group is made up of Stoughton High School sophomores, juniors and seniors.

Every spring they go on tour, bringing dance, humor and fun to audiences across the U.S.

There is no charge for the Payson show, but donations are accepted to help defray tour expenses.

About the group

In 1952, Stoughton, Wis. held its first Syttende Mai celebration. This recognition of the Norwegian Constitution Day was to become a tradition in the community.

Albert Molderhauer was the administrator of the schools at the time. He was of German ancestry, but felt that because the area was primarily populated with second and third generation Norwegians, the schools should play an active part in supporting ethnic pride in Stoughton.

He approached Jeanne Reek, who was of English ancestry, the girls physical education teacher, and asked her to begin a Norwegian dance group made up of high school students.

The group would perform during future Syttende Mai celebrations.

Reek was reluctant to undertake this task, as she had limited folk dance background and little knowledge of Norway and its customs, according to the group.

That first year, she chose six girls, who in turn chose their partners to form the first group.

The group began by practicing during their lunch hour. Since the early years, the group has grown to 20 dancers and three keyboardists.

By the third year, community interest grew so that Reek had to uncover all there was to know about Norway and its customs.

She advanced the performance level of the troop through talks and interviews with Norwegians, but found very little recorded information about folk dancing.

In the summer of 1964, she went to Norway to gather information first hand. She spent seven weeks there filming folk dances, getting translations to accompany the films, exploring costume shops and taping music.

In the early years, accordions were used, but today, keyboardists accompany the dancers.

Shirley Ralph, who is of Welch ancestry, has recorded on paper the music to accompany the dancers.

Alma Tenjem played an important role in copying, designing, embroidering and constructing costumes.

The first costumes were handmade in Stoughton with materials that were available in the United States.

Today, the bunads continue to be constructed in Stoughton, however, all the patterns, fabrics and threads are imported from Norway — making all the bunads authentically Norwegian.

Even the shoes and jewelry are imported from Norway. The girls wear bunads representing different districts in Norway, while the boys all wear the same.

The group, in 1968, was asked to dance for King Olaf of Norway when he visited Madison.

The following year they were invited to perform in Norway around Bergen and Oslo.

They have performed for millions of people and have toured extensively throughout the United States, Canada and Norway and have been in several national folk festivals.

Each spring takes the dancers to a different part of the country.

Each year students in Stoughton try out for any vacancies in the group left by graduating seniors.

Being a Norwegian dancer is held in high regard among the students and community.

Contact the reporter 

tmcquerrey@payson.com

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