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Eric Järvlepp Recalls 1971 Dinner Dance

Updated: Aug 15, 2021

by Eric Järvlepp

1967 was Canada's centennial year. To mark this occasion, the National Arts Centre was built for the people of Canada by the federal government in the nation's capital city, Ottawa. It was finished in 1969. The well known National Arts Centre Orchestra was an important component of this project. Their opera series functioned for a few years before it was terminated. Its independent successor, Opera Lyra, suffered the same fate. Apparently there was not enough public support.

In the National Arts Centre is a room called the Salon, which is used for meetings, dinners and dances. It has an ornate floor-to-ceiling aluminum entrance structure that is usually closed but can be opened. It is a massive piece of art. There is a square wooden dance floor surrounded by a carpeted area with moveable tables and chairs. Since the Centre was built for the people of Canada, the Salon was made available to groups and organizations who could rent it for approved events. It cost $60 (in 1970 dollars) for four hours. Initially its existence was not well known. The Nordic Society held a dinner dance there in February, 1971. Olav Løken was the president at that time. Mrs. Leena Järvlepp (wife of the author) was the convener of the event. She had been hired as a temporary employee by Census Canada for the 1971 census, working in the No. 8 temporary building at the Dow's Lake. She ended up making the arrangements for this event from a common wall-mounted telephone in the hallway during office hours. Dinner had to be ordered from the Arts Centre's own catering service which charged a dollar or two more than similar meals would cost at hotels and restaurants. But this was a convenient arrangement. Eleven ladies arrived wearing their national costumes. The black Norwegian attire looked majestic. (refers to photo above) The Ottawa Journal published a review of this event including the photo above. The author’s wife Leena is in the back row, third from the left. CNS member Hjørdis Weibust is also in the photo, in the back row, third from the right.

Leena selected the Finnish “letkis" as the opening dance. It is a "snake" dance in which the hands are placed on the shoulders of the person in front. The dancers take two short steps, then stop and kick sideways with one foot. Then two more steps, a stop and kick sideways with the other foot. This was fun and everyone joined the line. It did not take long before the dancers and the band had different rhythms and the dance became organized chaos. So much more fun!

A young couple promised to lead the dance but failed to show up. So the author of this article was ordered by the convener to lead the dance but soon had to bow out due to back problems. So Leena led the snake dance herself until the end. Ballroom dancing followed. Music was provided by the DiLabio Dance Band. When the news got around that groups could rent the Salon for a reasonable price, a very long waiting list formed and finally the initiative was terminated. While it was still available, the Estonian and Latvian Societies had two dinner dances and the Nordic Sociey had one, among others.

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