Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Susan McGuire

Second Advisor

Paul Valliere

Third Advisor

Judith Harper Morrel


In times of chaos and violence, brutality and oppression, one would not think of the arts as a guiding light for maintaining cultural identity and establishing peace and independence. However, the small country of Latvia serves as a prime example of how the arts, specifically folk dance, helped to maintain Latvian culture through centuries of oppression and war. As Swedish and German missionaries sought to spread Christianity throughout the pagan tribes in the 11th century, dance helped to sustain the cultural and religious beliefs of the ancient Latvians. Folk dance created a sense of unity within their communities, and the Christian missionaries were not able to suppress the art form enough to discontinue its ritualistic use. Jumping forward to the 20th century, folk dance played an important role in what is known as "the Singing Revolution" that began in 1987 and eventually led to the independence of the Baltic States in 1991. Large-scale Song and Dance Festivals served as the platform for this artistic protest movement. Whilst under the grasp of the Soviet Union, Latvian folk dance served as a form of political protest, which created a sense of unity by reminding Latvians of their cultural heritage, and ultimately bolstering their national movement.

This thesis will attempt to answer the question: How has Latvian folk dance helped to sustain Latvian cultural identity in spite of the introduction of Christianity and the oppression of communism?

Through the analysis of historical, cultural and theological texts, notated folk dances, interviews with current Latvian theological historians, and my own experience as a Latvian folk dancer, I will gain an understanding of the Latvian folk dances and their connection to the culture and beliefs of ancient and modern Latvians. I will specifically focus on how changes in the fabric of society affected Latvian folk dancing during two periods: the introduction of Christianity in the 11th century and communist rule from 1918-1991.