Folk Dancing in Lithuania

Full Name: Darius Cepulis
UC Email: [email protected]
College: College of Engineering and Applied Science
Major: Computer Engineering
Title of Project: Folk Dancing in Lithuania
Thematic Area: Global Studies
Expected Project Start Date: June 28
Expected Project End Date: July 6
In this self-designed learning experience, I would like to travel to Lithuania
for the Lithuanian Dance Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. This would involve preparing
for the festival with the folk dance group in which I participated with good friends
since Grade 7. With our group I would travel for a week and a half to Lithuania to
practice for the festival and to see the country. To see the country is an equally
important goal for me. I have been basically raised Lithuanian – we spoke the
language at home and I have actively participating in the Lithuanian community of
Cleveland, OH up until university. Even now, when I’m back in Cleveland, I get
wrapped up in volunteering with our Lithuanian Scouts and Dance Group in various
I have been raised with a strong sense of ethnic identity, and for this reason,
it would be particularly meaningful for me to see my homeland. Lithuanians are a
sentimental bunch for their beautiful homeland with its rich history, there’s no
denying. To be fully immersed in this would mean a lot more to me than visiting any
old country. Furthermore, because folk dance was a weekly part of my life for 6
years, to participate in the International Lithuanian Dance Festival in Lithuania itself
would be a fantastic culmination to an extracurricular which has been important to
me for so long. To tie the two together, I anticipate that this festival will be a good
means for me to explore the history of my country, as the history of the festivals and
the history of Lithuania’s fight for freedom, I understand, are closely tied together.
Through this combination of immersion and culmination, I hope to gain a
deeper and more personal understanding of how Lithuania’s history applies to me,
both in general and specifically through folk dancing. I will discuss this in the next
section in further depth. This experience involves 30 hours of practice before
leaving for Lithuania (a practice schedule can be provided on request), and a weeklong trip for two long practices of undefined length (they tell us when they start –
not when they end), two actual performances, and touring of Lithuania in the mean
Connection to Learning outcomes within an Honors Thematic Area
In this learning experience, I will explore the Honors Thematic Area of Global
Studies. While I considered Creative Arts, truly this project is not about the dancing
I’m doing – it is about the connection this dance brings to my ethnicity: the
connection to Lithuania’s history and my place within this Lithuanian event and
• Interact with individuals from different cultures and express a sensitivity,
appreciation and respect for the complex range of experiences of diverse peoples
I will achieve this by interacting with Lithuanians in the homeland and
learning about the current state of culture that is my background. Though I could
learn these things online, to personally experience the country and interact with the
place about which I’ve learned for so long would provide a massive personal impact.
Furthermore I would like to learn about the history of the festival and the country in
general, to greater contextualize what I’m observing.
• Possess global literacy, particularly in history and current world issues.
I will achieve this by exploring the history and context of the current
Lithuanian state. Though this falls in with the history I mentioned wanting to learn
in the previous paragraph, I would more specifically like to focus on the festivals in
light of Lithuania’s recent Soviet occupation and gaining of independence, as this
was a recent world issue which is still impacting the country to this day. I
understand that the festivals started as a means to preserve the Lithuanian culture
during the long Soviet occupation, and to further explore this history and my part in
it through performing in the festival would be very interesting to me. With
Lithuania’s small population, I want to fully appreciate how my folk dancing is a part
of preserving our culture.
Connection to Goals and Academic Theories
This learning experience will particularly contribute to my future personal
goals. The experience will further me personally by letting me explore my culture in
a deep and immersive context for an impactful life experience. Already I have
presented how much my ethnicity matters to me, so hopefully it is clear that going
to Lithuania like this would be a big deal. Also, this experience will allow for a sort of
culmination to the folk dance experience that has been integral to my life for so long.
To dance in a group of thousands from around the world I anticipate is going to be
an awesome experience. Furthermore, through research I’m about to outline, I will
be able to expand my knowledge of Lithuania.
I hope that I will be able to gain background knowledge for this project
through the historical book, “Lithuania: 700 Years,” a book that explores Lithuania’s
history and current state in great detail (which my dad has been wanting me to read
for far too long!) This is going to be my primary source of information: I anticipate
to gain a deeper understanding of the impact that Soviet occupation had on
Lithuania, and I hope to find in this book the role that the folk dance festivals have
had upon the culture – I understand that they are truly massive events, and I expect
them to at least gain a mention in this large green book with which my dad has
entrusted me.
Furthermore, if possible, I would like to explore this history through an oral
history from my Grandmother, which I could record. She, born and raised in
Lithuania, would be able to offer a personal take on the history of Lithuania. This is
also something I have discussed with my father – as my 85-year-old grandmother is
likely nearing the end of her journey here on Earth (as she so readily will tell us
before springing up to garden for a few hours – it amazes us all), to hear her stories
and maybe even record them would be a valuable experience from which I would
learn and her legacy would benefit. The book will be my primary source of academic
content, though I hope I have the opportunity before or after this trip to have a
recorded conversation with my grandmother.
Initiative, Independence, and/or Creativity
This trip is rather unique among the trips I have taken with our Lithuanian
Folk Dance Group. In my 6 years, I became part of a close-knit group of friends. Now,
my friends and I have graduated and a younger group is rising to fill our shoes as the
folk dancers of Cleveland. However, we still hold a passion for folk dance. We, the
older group, were presented with this opportunity to go to Lithuania. As the leader
of the Folk Dance group has the current group on which to focus, I, along with my
friends, am responsible for the logistics for this trip, from flights to scheduling
practices in Cleveland and Lithuania – this isn’t just a group trip – this is our trip to
plan and our trip to make as we want so that we can make the most of it. With this
flexibility, I hope to explore all that I have mentioned with these friends, as they too
hold the same yearning for knowledge surrounding their heritage.
Reflection will be an important component of this experience. For this
reflection I will maintain a daily blog on my Tumblr. In this blog I will reflect both on
my impressions of the country and my experience, and on the impact that this
experience has on me personally. What am I noticing about this country and how
does it differ from where I live? What am I noticing in my experience in the Dance
Festival? How is this experience affecting me based on my background, both in my
Lithuanian upbringing, and more specifically, my years of Folk Dance? Writing about
these questions daily will keep them in the top of my mind – they’ll serve as a
constant reminder to me to take advantage of the time I have in Lithuania to truly
immerse myself in my culture.
I will primarily center my dissemination around my aforementioned daily
Tumblr blog. At the header of this blog, I will include a brief description of this
honors project as to provide context to readers. I will update the site with numerous
daily pictures and impressions to try and adequately convey my daily experience. I
truly enjoy photography (though who knows if I’m good at it!) so I hope to capture
the essence of my journey in this format. Alongside these photos I’ll be placing my
daily impressions of the event and the country (as discussed in the reflection
section). I will share this blog with my friends and family at home – both those who
are Lithuanian like I who can understand my yearning to see my homeland (most
particularly my parents, sisters, and close Lithuanian friends who aren’t already
there), and those who are not, to whom I hope I can portray what this experience
actually means to me, and by extension, what being Lithuanian means to me. I will
be bringing attention to this blog not just by sending the link to my parents and
sisters, who will invariably follow it, but by bringing attention to it occasionally via
social media (Twitter/Facebook,) where I am followed by people who could
legitimately be interested in this experience.
Additionally, you mentioned in our meeting that Honors is looking for
Engineers to talk about their experiences. I would be interesting in this form of
dissemination! I believe talking about the conversion process of something that I
was already doing into an honors experience could prove insightful for my fellow
engineers. With the combined visual and written history, too, I could show in one of
these presentations what a completed project looks like in Tumblr, a medium with
which many of said engineers would have familiarity.
Project Advisor
I hope to develop this project with the help of the folk dance group teacher
and leader, Ausrine Sirvinskas. Her enthusiasm has been an inspiration to me for a
long time, and I truly believe that between her knowledge of folk dance or
Lithuanian culture, and the enthusiasm she would inevitably show for a project like
this, she would be the perfect project advisor for this experience. As practices start
up again this May, I will talk to her more about this project. She can be contacted at
[email protected]
• Purchased Food: $160 (we’ve managed to get this down low, particularly
through staying with familiar host families and tapping the Švyturys budget we’ve
built through events here at home to subsidize costs. This includes two or three
basic meals a day for our stay in Vilnius from July 1-6.)
• Additional Food (Estimate): $60 (For the first 3 days of the trip – June 2830 - we will be using our own funds to “fend for ourselves” as we stay in the Palanga
region. Based on found food places through and checking menus,
and assuming for breakfast and lunch we’ll be buying more grocery-market-fare
food, it’s safe to conservatively assume I’ll be spending $20/day on food.)
• Festival Registration: $40
• Misc Fees: $60 (Entrance to other festival events, group gear)
• Flight: $1070
Total: $1390