March 23, 2015 — It was a cool Sunday afternoon with a winter snow advisory, but folks were not deterred from gathering to dance at the Isanti County Historical Society in east central Minnesota. The music was provided by the Spirit River Scandiband, which was founded two years ago for the specific purpose of performing live music for traditional Scandinavian dances in Isanti County and beyond.
The waltz was familiar to most people, and so the dance floor filled whenever the band played a tune in one-two-three time. In addition, dance instructor Mary Hegge, who lives part-time in Norway and part-time in St. Paul, led some mixers and gave a lesson in the schottis. She also demonstrated the hambo and gave a brief explanation of it as being a choreographed dance that was thought to be somewhat easier than some polskas. She said it arrived on the dance floor about the same time the accordion made its appearance in Sweden.
Marilyn McGriff, local historian and leader of the Scandiband, talked about the group’s intent to learn tunes that were performed by immigrants about 150 years ago. Some have disappeared from Isanti County’s collective memory but still exist and are played at dances in Sweden. She mentioned one musician, Blind Pelle, who wrote tunes and made part of his living as a fiddler. Blind Pelle lived in Isanti County, and then returned to Sweden, where he died in Hälsingland.
A serendipitous connection to Sweden also occurred at the dance. Anders Åkerlund, a pastor from Rättvik, Sweden was touring the area, making stops at places where Swedish immigrants from Dalarna settled after 1864. He greeted the group and said he was delighted to see how the dances and music were in use so far away from their roots in Sweden. After his informal presentation he joined the group on the dance floor to such tunes as Sommar valsen, Gammal svensk schottis, Karis Pers polska and Noas snoa.
The Scandiband’s business card says, “Playing traditional Scandinavian music for listening AND dancing since 2011.” For bookings or more information call 763-691-1946. They are scheduled to perform for the Mora, MN Midsummer celebration in June, and some members will also be taking instrumental workshops at the 16th annual Nisswastämman on June 12-13, where noted Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Norwegian folk musicians will be sharing tunes and dances.

By Valorie Arrowsmith