Finnish Footwork: Kivajat Dancers practice, raise funds for Finland trip

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette The Kivajat Dancers perform the Chef’s Dance, a wedding tradition from Western Finland. In the Swedish-speaking community of Jeppo, it is used to celebrate the cooks during the long wedding celebration.

HANCOCK — The Kivajat Finnish Folk Dancers held the Old Time Copper Country Dance last week, featuring the Back Room Boys and the Thimbleberry Band. The dance and silent auction at the Finnish-American Heritage Center was both a chance for the Kivajat to show off their skills and a fundraiser for the group’s upcoming trip to the Tanssiva Turku Children’s International Folk Dance Festival in Turku, Finland.

“This is the third time the Kivajat Dancers have been invited to Tanssiva Turku,” Kay Seppala, the Kivajat Dancer’s instructor, said.

Every three years or so, the Turku Folklore Association, a group with about 200 dancers, puts on the festival, Seppala said. In past years, dance groups from around world have come to the festival, which is held at a camp managed by the city. In 2019 there is limited space due to some organization issues, so the Kivajat Dancers were the only group that was invited.

While in Finland, the dancers will perform for the Finns, teach American folk dances, learn new Finnish dances, publicly performance, do traditional crafts, sauna, swim and more.

“We will practice a lot because we’re at the camp for four days and then on the weekend we go into the city of Turku and we have three or four formal performances,” Seppala said.

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Kivajat Pelimannit members Zac and Tobias Sommerville play the Jeppo Waltz on the fiddle as the Kivajat Dancers perform the Ribbon Dance.

One day at the camp is going to be “American Day”, when American food will be served and American folk dances taught to the Finnish hosts.

“Friendships have been formed at the past two events that have continued to this day, it’s really fun to watch the families connect,” Seppala said.

During their time in the city, the dancers stay with Finnish hosts.

“Once the children and families experience the warm Finnish hospitality they’ll be ambassadors of finland for life,” Seppala said. “The Finnish hospitality is just so wonderful.”

Twenty-one dancers are planning on going, each accompanied by at least one parent. The goal is to raise $38,000, enough to cover travel expenses for each dancer and two dance instructors. Parents and family pay for their own travel expenses. Room and board is provided at the camp for the dancers, and parents “pay” for their room and board by working at the camp.

The group also visits the Luostarinmaki Handicrafts Museum, an district of 18th-century housing that has visiting craftsmen practicing trades like weaving and blacksmithing each summer.

The group has raised more than $20,000 toward their goal. Beside the dance and silent auction, they’ve held arts and crafts and baked goods sales, received local donations and grants, and started a gofundme page.

Their fundraising effort is named Footwork and Fiddles to Finland, because of a division in the group that just started this year. The Kivajat Pelimannit are six Kivajat members who are also learning to play traditional Finnish fiddle music.

“It’s for dancing, so it will have a very obvious beat,” Tobias Sommerville, 14, said.

Sommerville has been playing violin for about 9 years and fiddling for 4. He and his twin brother Zachary are both in the Kivajat Pelimannit group, and their sisters, Eliana, 11, and Miriam, 8, are both dancers, too. Their entire family will be going to Finland, according to their father, Jason Sommerville.

“It’s not someplace I really expected to go,” he said.

He said that over the last sixteen years in Hancock and Houghton his family has become “adopted Finns”, and has enjoyed being a part of the Kivajat group.

“The adults and the kids are all a lot of fun,” Sommerville said.

The Kivajat Dancers have been expanding, too. The original Kivajat group was started as an elementary age group, but two more sub-groups have been added. The Loistavat is for middle and high-school aged dancers and the Pikku Kivajat, or Little Finnish Dancers, is for kindergarten through second grade. The group is sponsored and hosted by the Finnish-American Heritage Center at Finlandia University.

“Without their sponsorship and support we wouldn’t exist,” Seppala said.

The dancers all dress in traditional Finnish peasant attire from the Karelian region, which is now a part of Russia. Boys have a locally-handmade Puukko knife on their belt, the older girls wear ribbons in their hair, and the younger girls wear huivi (scarves).

“These costumes were made with grant money by local people who sew,” Seppala said.

Seppala said that people can support the dancers in a number of ways. The gofundme page is still open, or a check, written to Kivajat Dancers, can be sent to Kivajat Dancers, c/o Kay Seppala, 2001 Spruce Lane, Houghton, MI, 49931.

“It’s a wonderful way for children to be better world citizens and to learn about international travel and building international bridges,” Seppala said “It’s wholesome fun and great exercise.”

The group also has more fundraising events planned. The next one is the Pannukakku Breakfast, 8-11 a.m. on April 6 at Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church, 1010 Madeleine Street in Houghton. The cost is $8 and includes pannukakku with fruit sauce, sausage, and beverages.

For more information, call 906-523-6271 or email

“We’re open to new dancers every fall,” Seppala said.