Nyckelharpa injury

I recently found myself with an injury from nyckelharpa practice in which I felt severe stabbing pain under my left shoulder blade. It hurt so much I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t find a comfortable position for reading or using the computer either. And playing nyckelharpa made it noticeably worse. I could still walk and play tennis. A doctor visit was useless, they shrugged and prescribed a muscle relaxer, but I have gotten good relief from a chiropractor over the course of about 8 visits. He found some ribs were displaced and the area under my shoulder blade very tight. He relaxed and manipulated my neck and upper spine and ribs and the area under my shoulder blade. I have also used ice and heat (my hot tub) and naproxen and done a lot of gentle stretching.

I needed to find a better solution for playing nyckelharpa at home. We had had wonderful chairs at the Eric Sahlström Institute that had gotten me through a year of playing many hours a day. Here’s a photo of our classroom there with the chairs:

Music classroom for our 2014-2015 year.

Music classroom for our 2014-2015 year.


But after I got home to the USA I had not been able to find a comfortable sitting position. So I had been practicing standing up, with some intervals perched on the arm of an armchair, or on a stool.

It is called a harpcello chair on the website.

It is called a harpcello chair on the website.


I was able to find a chair online at that was similar to the chairs at the Eric Sahlström Institute. It was more money than I wanted to spend, but after I developed the problems described above I went ahead and bought one and it is doing what I needed. It has great adjustability and wonderful lumbar support. The people at the small company in Canada were very helpful. I Skyped with ‘Sal’ and he showed me how to assemble and adjust the chair before he packed it up to FedEx it to me.

I have since taken an additional step, which is to learn and practice the Alexander technique. From their website they describe it this way:

“The Alexander Technique is a way to feel better, and move in a more relaxed and comfortable way… the way nature intended.

An Alexander Technique teacher helps you to identify and lose the harmful habits you have built up over a lifetime of stress and learn to move more freely.”

I found a private teacher in Kensington, MD and have had about 8 weeks of instruction. I think it is really helping, and also find it helpful when walking, moving, dancing, and living.

All the reading I have done about change has suggested that multiple changes are important when trying to create a new habit. So I have made a number of changes and am finding a better way.

A Year Ago

I can’t believe a year has passed since I completed my year at the Eric Sahlström Institute. The time has flown by. I’m continuing to improve on nyckelharpa and as a musician.  i’m still processing what I learned. As Ditte said, they stuffed us full of tunes and technique and information to last for many years.


Here’s a photo from our final concert last year.


I love this picture of my daughters coming off the Upptåget to attend our final concert. May 22, 2015. They are smiling and so am I!

Making Filmjölk

I loved and missed the wonderful filmjölk in Sweden. There is a product available here from Siggi’s and available at Whole Foods, but it is non-fat and heavily sugared and flavored and I just didn’t like it.


Then Andrea Larson told me Bob Mills was making it with whole milk. So I used a recipe from when I made yogurt and it worked beautifully.



Filmjölk with some oats and a raspberry on top


Here's my complete breakfast on the deck. I'm also making kanelbullar.

Here’s my complete breakfast on the deck. I’m also making kanelbullar.

Here’s how I am doing it:

Heat 2.5 Cups milk to 180 deg F (use temperature probe with alarm)
Let cool to 110 to 115 deg F. Can accelerate in an ice bath, stirring and measuring temperature.
Stir in filmjölk starter (3 Tbsp commercial filmjölk (Siggi’s) or prior filmjölk I made)
Put into jars.
Incubate in cooler 8 hours to overnight together with a jar of hot/warm water.

Note the dog nose and pink tongue. He wants some.

West Coast Swing

I recently tried another dance modality, West Coast Swing (WCS). I found it to be a lot of fun, with a very nice community of  people. images

I went to MADJam (mid-atlantic dance jam), a regional WCS 4-day weekend with about 1500 participants, this time in Baltimore (see or the Facebook event page). They had an extensive lineup of workshops with three simultaneous tracks for levels 1, 2, and 3. I participated in a Newcomer’s program that was new this year and made it very welcoming to join in and begin. The friday workshops included  First Timer’s Orientation, Social Dance Survival, Fun, Easy Moves, and Pass Fundamentals. They introduced people to the cultural norms of the community, including asking people to dance, and we practiced asking as well as saying “Yes” and saying “No” when asked. They assumed that we already knew the basics of WCS, so I had to fake it when we did exercises that included dancing. I just followed the leaders and it all worked out. In addition to classes, there were competitions of various kinds with lots of encouragement for people to join, exhibitions, and dance evenings for fun. It was a diverse group of friendly people of all ages.

A new acquaintance who had conveyed his enthusiasm about WCS and piqued my curiosity about it came over and taught me the basics in my home dance space. It was very nice to have a good private lesson, and it was a lot of fun.

I then began attending the WCS lessons at the Rendezvous social dance club, which they have every Monday evening. They have a beginner lesson at 7:30, then intermediate at 8:15, then social mixer dance party from 9:00 until 11:30 with a DJ at a cost of $15 per evening. The teacher is Debbie Lynn, and she has been an outstanding teacher. Classes have had about 30-40 people, reasonably balanced between leaders and followers. We change partners very frequently, which in my experience is a really important way to learn couple dancing. They also change partners frequently during the dance evenings, often every dance. People have been very welcoming and I have not had trouble getting partners.

There are additional WCS dances on Fridays at the Hollywood Ballroom, and a group in Frederick, MD on Thursday nights, and probably many others.

Here is a good video of WCS: 

I like that the style of WCS is very casual and down-to-earth. Women wear jeans or pants and a top. Unlike ballroom dance it doesn’t have the high-heels-and-sequins style and pretense, nor the business model of soaking the customer for every hour of dance time and instruction. The music is popular and commonly available and the dance works with various speeds and 2/4 music. It is easy to learn and get started, but with many layers of proficiency to get really good at it and keep it interesting.

A fundamental difference between this and Scandinavian and other dancing I do regularly (waltz, contra dance) is that WCS is not a live music activity; music is pre-recorded and played by a DJ (disc jockey). So there is no applause after each dance because there are no musicians to clap for, and no concurrent music instruction at the weekend workshop as we have at other workshops. The sound systems are good, and the DJ’s are excellent at keeping the flow of the dance evening going.

I noticed that I miss the extra dynamic of interacting with musicians as a dancer. It adds such an important dimension to Scandinavian couple dancing. We often say that there are three people in each dance, the two people in the couple and the fiddler. I discussed this during an earlier post as the teachers in the Eric Sahlström Institute year-long course did such an amazing job teaching the musicians and dancers about that interaction (link).

For comparison, here is a Swedish slängpolska example filmed at the ESI with Petra Eriksson dancing with Håkon Vejvi, and Emilia Amper playing nyckelharpa.

I haven’t decided if or how much I will continue learning WCS, but I am happy to have had the introduction and it has been interesting.

Scandinavian Dance and Music Festivals

I was recently asked about festivals in Sweden and Norway and looked for a list without success. So I started one, and have had some input from friends. I am posting it here, and would welcome contributions from anyone with relevant information or corrections to share. I have included Denmark, Finland, and the USA.


  1. Umeå festival folk music February 26-28, 2016, or
  2. is in June, Ransätersstämman, June 9-12, 2016
  3. for Bingsjöstämman, 1 July, 2016
  4. Norrlandia Camp, July 23 – 29, 2016 and every third year, Hälsingland
  5. July 25-31, 2016 this year, awesome lineup
  6. Polskmärkes – uppdansning medal testing program for Swedish polska, the first weekend in August every year, location varies, see or and my blog post about this most recent event.
  7. Linköping and October 7-8, 2016 likely
  8. Oktoberstämman Saturday October 29, 2016, Uppsala Konsert & Kongress

Regular information sites in Sweden:

  1. musician information in Uppland Län
  2. Thursday night dance in Stockholm, Sept-April
  3. Friday night dance in Stockholm, Sept-April
  4. has dances in the summer, Wednesdays


  1. August 3-7, 2016 in Gaupne, gammaldans
  2. July 6-10, 2016, this year’s theme is “flight”
  3. Landskappleiken (the Norwegian annual national competition in traditional music and dance; lasts from Weds. afternoon to the final master concert of winners in all the different competitions and levels on Sunday). It moves around the country; this year it is in Vågå in Gudbrandsdal, 22-26 June, 2016

Finland July 7-11, 2016


  1. July 25-30, 2016
  2. Sonderho Days folk festival in July, a small local festival
  3. July 8-10, 2016 The festival at the other end of this island (Fanø). This is a small local festival

United States

Festivals, workshops, camps:

  1. Spring Springar Spree, April 29-May 1, 2016 in Takoma Park, MD  featuring Hallingspringar from Norway in 2016  (
  2. Nordic Fiddles & Feet Camp, at Camp Ogontz in New Hampshire, June 26 – July 3, 2016 (on Facebook: Nordic Fiddles & Feet Camp) featuring dances and music from Norway and Sweden
  3. Hardanger Fiddle Association of America Annual Hardingfele and Dance Workshop out on the prairie near Dodgeville, Wisconsin, July 21-24, 2016, this year featuring music and dances of Setesdal, Norway (see
  4. June 11-18, 2016, Mendocino Woodlands, California

Regular groups in the USA, links

Washington, D.C. area:

  1. There is a monthly Scandinavian dance with teaching on the third Saturday of the month September through May, led by Ross Schipper and Linda Brooks.
  2. The Mid-Atlantic Norwegian Dancers (MAND) is a loose network of Norwegiophiles centered in the Baltimore-Washington-Frederick area, holding monthly Norwegian-style house parties with potluck and dancing, often the first or second weekend of the month. I usually play a set or two for Swedish dance on nyckelharpa, sometimes joined by Bruce on mandolin and/or Melissa on nyckelharpa. (
  3. A weekly teaching dance is ideal for beginners through advanced dancers, led by Lisa Brooks and Dan Kahn on Tuesdays at the NIH (National Institutes of Health in Bethesda)
  4. American Scandinavian Association has a listing of events.
  5. Nordic Dancers is a long-standing performing group doing traditional village dances and set dances from all of Scandinavia, meeting Wednesdays and open to all.


  1. Speledans: Boston dance group (Massachusetts)
  2. Madison Scandinavian Dancing (Wisconsin)
  3. Folklore Village (Wisconsin)
  4. Scandinavian Dancing in Seattle (Washington)
  5. Scandinavian Dancers of Vancouver B.C. (Canada)

Former ESI musician course participants playing together at Nordic Fiddles and Feet in July 2015.

Återträffen (Reunion)!

Over a year ago I wrote a post about the wonderful event at the ESI, Prova på and Återträffen. This year I returned for the same event and participated in the Återträffen portion. It was a month later than last year’s, in late February rather than late January. I had a wonderful time. 12 of us from the 2014-2015 class of 20 attended the weekend, and it was so great to see these wonderful people again. We lived and studied together for 9 months, but then we haven’t seen each other for the past 8 months. I love being part of this special community of musicians and dancers.

View from the airplane on the way to Copenhagen, then Stockholm.

View from the airplane on the way to Copenhagen, then Stockholm.

I went early to acclimate, and am so happy I did. I was able to stay in my old room with Ginny Lee, who is there this year. I arrived early enough (9:20 landing in Stockholm) to take the trains and be there for lunch, my favorite soup and pancakes. Mia Marin was one of my favorite guest teachers and was teaching all day, so I was able to join the class after lunch. We learned a wonderful new tune, Polska från Barsebäck. On Friday we had Sonia Sahlström and it was delightful to have class with her again. We learned tunes that had been bonus tunes for us last year, and it was great to really dig into them. We then played through multiple tunes I had learned last year. What a pleasure!


This was the first time I had seen the mansion without scaffolding! It has been painted a darker yellow-orange color.

We had a fun dance evening Friday, and I danced and joined a group playing for dancers.

Saturday I practiced in the morning, and we had 19 musicians in a session in the afternoon with Mia Marin and Niklas Roswall, each of whom taught two tunes. Then we played a series of tunes from prior years together. It was a blast.


Mia Marin recording Niklas Roswall’s tunes. They taught the reunion class together.


Part of the reunion class recording tunes.

After a walk in the snow and a rest, we had a dinner, the traditional taco buffet, while singing songs we all knew with the help of words printed in a booklet. After ice cream we cleared the room for dancing, and had a succession of musicians play for dance. I did a bit of dancing, but spent most of the time in the two different ongoing musical jams. Last year I was not brave enough to join the fast jam of former students in the Eric Sahlström Rummet, but this year I joined and fully participated and it was wonderful.

Norrköping station

Norrköping station

I went to Norrköping the next day after Āterträffen and had a lovely afternoon dancing with the group I danced with last year, then spent the night with Stig and Helen. It was heaven to dance with and see those lovely people again! Helen and I played some tunes together in the morning. She taught me Tre Strömingar, then Ginny and Mikkel are working on it too, which was a fun coincidence.

I spent the next night back in Stockholm with Ginny and Mikkel; we played tunes and went Scottish Country Dancing in Gamla Stan! After that I checked into the SkyCity hotel, then zoomed back to Stockholm on the Arlanda Express to walk around.

Room at SkyCity Hotel at Arlanda, between terminals 4 and 5.

Room at SkyCity Hotel at Arlanda, between terminals 4 and 5. My nyckelharpa is on the bed. I got a business class room upgrade!


Fika at Vete-Katten in Stockholm. Excellent princesstårta!

Fika at Vete-Katten in Stockholm. Excellent princesstårta!

Sunset in Stockholm

Sunset in Stockholm


I have continued to work on Swedish language and it really is getting better. Interestingly, when in the USA I don’t dream in Swedish, but in Sweden I do!

A New Bow!

I have a new bow and am in awe of what a wonderful difference it is making in my playing. The bow I had at the ESI was pretty good, but very stiff. Olov saw me struggling with something and tried my bow and said, “It is very stiff, but it should work.” I tried my best. But I ordered a bow from Jean Claude Condi, with the help of Emilie who knows him and spoke to him in French. It took about 5 months once we had his attention. I was able to have him ship it to friends in Sweden, since it was not ready until after I had returned to the USA and he didn’t want to ship it to the USA. Then I picked it up when I returned to Sweden and visited them in Furudal in late July.

But what a difference! There are several things I have played where the difference was remarkable; specifically some 16th note passages are now clearly heard where before with the stiff bow they were muddy. I noticed it first on Polska på Överväningen. The other thing is that now I can do gungstråk after some years of trying to do it. I’m sure the ESI training is contributing to this, but the new bow has really been a boost. I am also more consistently getting the sound quality I am aiming for when we worked on “tonstarter” with Olov (the initiation of the note).

The old bow is above and the new bow below.

The old bow is above and the new bow below. The old one is 48 grams and the new one is 44 grams, so a bit lighter.

Training for Uppdansning

In most endeavors preparation is key, and that is particularly true for “dancing up” or medal testing in Swedish Polska. We do a lot of preparation here in the States, with teachers invited from Sweden and with American teachers. But a very special thing to do is attend the Training Camp that Leif and Margareta Virtanen have been operating for 20 years. This is the week just before the Uppdansning weekend, which is always the first full weekend in August. For the past 17 years it has been held at Furudals Bruk. There is a lovely dance floor and hall and places nearby for housing.

Leif and Margareta hold four sessions a day and the schedule is divided between two groups, those doing Märke testing, and those doing Diplom. I have described the Märke testing in previous posts. The Diplom program is for people who have previously earned Big Silver medals. Every year the organizers designate a regional area of Sweden and choose a set of 7 to 10 dances from that region. Participants need to practice all the dances but will perform only four of them for the judges, without knowing which four in advance. They dance in groups of four couples at a time.

At 9 AM at the start of the first session, Margareta leads a warmup set of exercises to a group of three short tunes. We have come to love her moves and those tunes and enjoy warming up together. After the warmup we usually do a mixer, a schottis or polska dance in which we progress to dance with each man in the circle (if you are a woman).


Warmup led by Margareta








For Märke practice, Margareta develops a schedule ahead of time and calls up couples to perform the dances for teaching purposes. As many as four couples will come up at a time if that many are doing a particular dance, but it can also be a single couple. The couple or couples do the dance, followed by comments and suggestions by Leif and Margareta, then another attempt at the dance. There will be more comments, and the dance may be repeated a third time. Margareta has a table full of CDs and a tremendous knowledge of that music so she can play appropriate music for each dance. She is masterful at varying the tempo and using different examples of music so that by the end of the week you have become more adept at doing the dance to different tunes and at different speeds. Leif and Margareta are also very astute at figuring out what to suggest to each partner to improve the dance. Their criticism is very gentle and positive and helpful.


Dancing Polska efter Arbrå with Ross



Dancing with Ross under the watchful eyes of Leif and Margareta

While a particular dance is being critiqued in a cordoned off area of the dance floor, the other 2/3 of the hall is available for practice. This practice space is always full of couples trying different things. The Diplom dancers often come just to enjoy dancing to the music, especially in the evening sessions. There are tables around the hall where others sit and work on their computers, or knitting, or writing or talking, or just watching the dancers. It is a congenial and happy group of incredibly nice people and a very pleasant way to spend some summer days.


View of the practice hall from above.

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Practicing with Ross in 2014


Practice is to the left of the rope, and couples being critiqued are to the right.


After the final evening session, around 8:30 PM, people go out to the shore of the lake and make a fire and grill food, usually hot dogs. There is talking and singing and laughing. One evening we do a singing game called “fattig man” (poor man). The sun sets about 10:30 PM or so and the twilight lasts a long time after that. Mosquitoes enjoy coming to the bonfires too.


Grilling by the lake



Fattig man





The lake and the setting sun.

Stort Silver!

I got my Stort Silver (Big Silver) medal on August 2, 2015, dancing with Stig Eriksson!

Here was our program:

Bakmes från Hede – Backmans variant, hambo och bakmes
Polskdans – Springdans från Hogdal-Lommeland
springdans, polsksteg med- och motsols, vigheter fordras ej
Polska från Östra Jämtlant – senpolska

and small dances:
Polska från Södra Dalarna
Polska från Ore
Polska från Alfta eller Arbrå (we did Arbrå) — this was the dance selected

Nine Stort Silver medalists in 2015! There was also a gold medalist this year. Gold medals are seldom given, and honor people who have given significantly to the movement over many years. Two of the Uppdansning judges have been awarded gold medals.

Nine Stort Silver medalists in 2015! Two of us were Americans. There was also a gold medalist this year. Gold medals are seldom given, and honor people who have given significantly to the movement over many years. Two of the Uppdansning judges have been awarded gold medals.


Here is my silver medal on the left, and Stort Silver on the right below the certificate for the Stort Silver.

I have been extremely fortunate that Stig Eriksson offered to be my partner for this testing process. He is one of the best dancers in Sweden. He and his wife Helen completed their Stort Silver in 2000. With Stig I earned Bronze in 2008, Silver in 2010, SSI in 2012, and SSII in 2014. I”danced up” for SSIII or Stort Silver this summer in 2015 and was successful!

Happy winners!

Happy winners!

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Preparing to dance Polskdans – Springdans från Hogdal-Lommeland, springdans, polsksteg med- och motsols, vigheter fordras ej with Stig on August 2, 2015.


Polska från Östra Jämtlant – senpolska, also known as Gimdalen. It has a lovely floating quality.


Polskdans – Springdans från Hogdal-Lommeland springdans, polsksteg med- och motsols, vigheter fordras ej. My hair flew out horizontally on the turns. This was probably the reverse direction turn.



Helen and Stig Eriksson are on the left, and Linda Brooks and Ross Schipper on the right. They were all instrumental in my ability to complete this program and earn Bronze, Silver, and Big Silver medals.

Why Uppdansning?

Dancing polska från Idre with Stig in 2014.

Dancing Bakmes och pols i turer från Idre ( 10 pts) with Stig in 2014. The musicians on the other side of the stage out of view of the camera are playing for this dance. At the end of this dance is a lovely song that usually the entire audience sings, “Dansen den var bra, och tack ska du ha”, meaning ‘dancing was good and thanks shall you have’. It is really lovely.

Uppdansning (polskemärkes – Uppdansning or Swedish bygdedans medal testing) is a program that was created to maintain the tradition of Swedish polska dances from regions and villages around Sweden (bygdedanser).

Dances were carefully collected and written down in books, some from old videos or from older couples who still remembered and did their regional or village dances. A program was created with point values for the different dances based on difficulty, and a series of medals progressing through the program. 103 dances are eligible, with point values from 5 to 10 points. Bronze is the first level, with 3 dances with total point value between 21 and 24. Then silver, with at least 27 points. Then there are 3 stages required to get to Big Silver (Stort Silver), the highest level. Each of these 3 stages requires 3 big dances totaling at least 27 points, and 3 smaller dances of 8 or fewer points. Completion of the Big Silver thus requires mastery of 24 dances.

The testing consists of a performance for the judges and audience with live music of your chosen dance list. You are not competing with any other dancers, but being judged based on your proficiency and correct execution of the appropriate dance, in time with the music. Each couple is announced with their names and costume and local dance group. They also announce each dance. At the Big Silver level, after your 3 big dances the judges choose one of the 3 small dances for you to perform next. You need to be prepared to dance any one of the three, but will only actually perform one.

The audience applauds and is very supportive of dancers, especially at the bronze level. You don’t find out if you passed until the final ceremony on Sunday. If you fail and don’t get a medal, you will still get a certificate. It can be difficult to tell who passed or failed during the ceremony itself. But you can count the number of Big Silver medals on the table and compare it with the number of people trying to get Big Silver in the program. One recent year there were 13 trying and only 7 medals on the table. If you fail, you can come back another year and do it again.


The Uppdansning venue in Orsa at the Hembygsgården is intimate (2015). Judges are to the right out of this photo, musicians on the stage.


The Uppdansning venue in Östersund is spacious (2014). Stig and Helen are dancing in front of the judges, with the audience to the left in a large section of seats at increasing heights. The musicians are on a large stage just to the right out of view of the photo.

Doing this program is something that the best dancers of Swedish polska do, and it is exciting to come to Sweden and dance with and among the best dancers of Swedish polska. Several visiting Swedish dance teachers urged us to do it, as did American dancers who have done this program previously, so we plunged in. The first time, in 2008, we had 7 dancers from the DC area who went for bronze medal testing together. And we all passed! It is really fun, a real rush to perform for this audience, and very good for our dance skills to go through the practice and training and the event itself.

During the Uppdansning weekend there are 3 evening dances for fun, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. The first few nights many people are practicing their chosen dances for upcoming testing, but everyone gets more relaxed as the weekend continues. These dances have become more enjoyable as we have gotten to know people, and are a real highlight of the weekend. In this knowledgeable crowd instead of a last waltz, the evening is more likely to end with a final Gammalpolska från Föllinge or Bingsjö Polska!

We had a lot of encouragement to go through this program, and people to show us the ropes as we went along. It has been a lot of fun, and very good for our dance proficiency.

The Stort Silver medalists in 2014. My friend Lisa Brooks is there!

The ten Stort Silver medalists in 2014; three are Americans. My friend Lisa Brooks is 5th from the left!

I am grateful to Ross Schipper for practicing with me in Furudals Bruk before each of the last 4 events, and to both Ross and Linda Brooks for practicing with me in Washington, DC during the intervening years.

There is more information at under dance and Uppdansning.