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Continuing a cultural tradition

Joga family to participate in 13th Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival

Posted: June 23, 2008 1:27 a.m.
Updated: August 24, 2008 5:02 a.m.

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For more than 10 months, the children of the Joga family have been dedicating countless hours to rehearsing and preparing their Lithuanian Folk Dance.

But the weekly trips to St. Casimir's in Los Angeles for their practice sessions will soon come to an end as the Saugus teens prepare to debut their skills at the 13th Lithuanian Folk Dance Festival, set to take place in Los Angeles at the beginning of July.

Dressed in traditional wool costumes, Vik, 17, Karina, 16, Gytis, 17 and Kriste, 13, will perform with more than 1,000 other dancers during a two-hour performance at the Galen Center at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. This is the first time that the festival has been held in Los Angeles.

The festival will feature performers from all parts of the globe, representing various generations. Including the Joga teens, the Santa Clarita Valley will have 18 Lithuanians performing in the folk dance with four dance instructors.

The local dancers are part of the group named "Spindulys," meaning sun rays in Lithuanian.

While the participants vary in age and hometown, the 1,100 Lithuanians will come together to celebrate their culture and the history of the Baltic country.

According to Gytis, the dances represent various themes, including the harvest and country lifestyle the nation is known for.

"All folk dances tell a story," said father Frank Joga, who also serves as one of the chairs for the festival.

To the Saugus teenagers and their parents, who are all fluent in Lithuanian, attending the festival gives them a chance to connect to their culture, while meeting other Lithuanians from around the world.

This will mark the third time that Gytis, Vik and Karina will perform at the festival and the second time for Kriste.

"It's a great way to meet other people," while also seeing friends from past festivals, Gytis said.

Karina added, "It's the experience of being able to show people what you've accomplished."

For their parents, who have performed in the folk dance festival more than five times, seeing their kids participate continues the traditions of Lithuania.

"It's one way of keeping the culture alive," said mother Regina Joga.

Frank added that the festival, which began in 1957 and is held roughly every four years, is the single most important cultural event for his family.

"It's important to maintain the culture and connections with heritage," he said.

The kids of the Joga family have been learning about their culture since they were around four years old.

Every Saturday, the four have studied at the Lithuanian Saturday School, located at St. Casimir's.

Gytis and Vik, who graduated from Saugus High School last month, have also successfully completed 14 years of the Saturday school.

Frank said this year's festival brought together 70 volunteers to organize the multiple-day festival. Typically, the event has been held in the Midwest because many Lithuanians immigrated there decades ago.

This is the first time the festival has been brought to the West Coast and organizers hope it will be a way to showcase California.

"It's our hope that it will be the best ever," he said.

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