Minnesota Immigrants: Preserving Culture


Traditional dance is another important cultural tradition that is handed down. Cultural dances combine traditional music and clothing in a dynamic representation of heritage and pride. Dance performances are often included in group heritage celebrations, and also put on for the wider community.

Folk Dancers

Many cultures formed folk dancing groups or held classes on folk dancing. These groups were often based in communities, schools, or churches whose members had shared ethnic identities.

Thuy Duong Nguyen-Tran and her siblings grew up in Richfield with their Vietnamese refugee parents. She spoke about the importance of growing up with Vietnamese culture and values at home while also getting exposed to American culture at school and in the community. She helped form the Hoàng Anh Vietnamese Dance Group with her sister after her mother noticed there was not an organization teaching and sharing Vietnamese dances. Together, they choreograph the dances and arrange for Vietnamese costumes and props for their performances.

Interview with Thuy Duong Nguyen-Tran, 2010

Festival Performances

Cultural dance groups often perform traditional dances at folk festivals, where many cultures come together in celebration. One such festival was held in Duluth for several years starting in the 1940s, where audiences could watch Greek, German, and Russian dancers—and many more.

Duluth Folk Festival, Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth Folk Festival, Duluth, Minnesota
Folk Festival, Duluth, Minnesota

In the Twin Cities, folk dances from many cultures are also performed at the annual Festival of Nations, organized by the International Institute of Minnesota. This is an opportunity for folk dance groups, especially children, to share their cultures with the wider community in Minnesota.

Rita Mustaphi was one of the original founders of the School of India for Language and Culture, where she taught traditional Indian dances to children. Her dancers performed individually or within groups for Indian holidays as well as at community-wide festivals like the Festival of Nations.

I was teaching folk dances of some parts of India, contemporary dance from West Bengal, and that’s called Tagore style of dance. Kathak dance, which I learned, and also Manipuri dance. So all these four styles of dancing I was teaching, to boys and girls. And they were performing at places like Festival of Nations.

– Rita Mustaphi

Interview with Rita Mustaphi, 2000

Children Dancers

Children of immigrants or those within cultural groups are frequently taught the traditional dances of their ancestors. They honor, celebrate, and learn more about their culture through dance.

Swedish Folk Dance by Eighth Graders, Winona State Normal School, Winona, Minnesota
Vasa Children's Dancers, Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Hmong Cultural Center holds traditional dance classes for Hmong children. These young dancers often perform at Hmong holiday events and other group celebrations.

To see how immigrants preserved their language, art, and holidays, use the page links below.