Pittsburgh’s Lithuanian Folk Dance Ensemble
If you like to dance and want to learn something about traditional Lithuanian folk dances, then Pittsburgh’s Neris Lithuanian Dance Group encourages you to join them for some fun and exercise. Keeping with the image of Pittsburgh as the city of three rivers, the group is named after the river Neris, a major tributary in Lithuania. The dancers are comprised of the younger members of Pittsburgh’s Lithuanian community. They also include members of other nationalities who enjoy the camaraderie of the group and the beauty of the Lithuanian dances.
The group Neris was formed in December 1965 and first performed at the Lithuanian Independence Day Celebration on February 16, 1966. The group was comprised of 18 dancers from the Pittsburgh area. Mrs. Aldona Grina taught the group and Mr. Vito Yucius was the accordion accompanist.
Within the first 2 years, the group’s performances included an appearance on KDKA TV, the Pittsburgh Folk Festival, Lithuanian Club Banquet, Lithuanian Catholic Alliance Convention at the Hilton Hotel, John Kane Hospital, Echoes of Lithuania Radio Program Picnic, several performances at the University of Pittsburgh, and the South Park Allegheny County Fair. The tradition has continued throughout the years with numerous local performances as well as performances in Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, and Baltimore.
A children’s group was added in 1995 and is comprised of 13 dancers age 6-12. Many are the children of current or former Neris dancers. Connie Miskyte-Zatek lead the children’s group. From 1995 to 2006, public performances included appearances by both groups. In its later years, the group averaged around 24 dancers in the combined groups. Although membership has changed through the years, it is not uncommon for dancers to stay with the group for 10, 20, or more years. In May of 2006, Neris celebrated its 40th anniversary. A grand performance took place at the Pittsburgh Folk Festival in addition to a special reunion celebration following the performance. The folk music group Saule from Lithuania provided the music for both the Folk Festival performance and the reunion. Following the retirement of longtime instructor, Janet Zusinas Ruperto after the 2006 performance, the group was then led by John Baltrus for 3 years and then Connie Zatek for 2 years. Currently the group is on hiatus, but there is always hope that we can recruit a sufficient number of dancers to perform again.
You are welcome to visit the websites of other Lithuanian folk dance groups throughout the United States and abroad:
- Grandis– Chicago, IL
- Samburis– Boston, MA
- Gojus– Anyksciai, Lithuania
- Aidas– Kansas City, KS
- Spindulys– Los Angeles, CA
- Saule– Arizona
- Sietuva– Lithuania
- Klumpe– Northern IL and Wisconsin
- Lietuva – Lithuanian State Song and Dance Group
- Ausrine – Philadelphia
- Vejava – Minnesota
Neris veteran, Dalia Yucius, received an award from The Pittsburgh Folk Festival on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. The award recognized her contributions towards helping to organize the Festival.