Carroll-area residents who braved the wet weather Monday to attend the Carroll County Farm Museum Fourth of July Celebration were rewarded with a special performance by folk dancers from Westminster's sister city, Paide, Estonia.
Celebration-goers watched as the dancers performed a mix of polkas and other dances as well as sang Estonian songs.
The dancers, who drew a crowd despite the rain, have spent the past week in Westminster as part of the town's cultural exchange program with Paide. Monday's performance was the group's last before heading back to Estonia on Tuesday.
The partnership between the two cities began in 2002 and has resulted in numerous visits between citizens of both towns, as well as performances by Estonian musical groups around Westminster, said Thomas Beyard, who, with the Community Foundation of Carroll County, helped organize the dancers' visit. It was, he said, the first visit by an Estonian folk dance group to the city of Westminster.
The group comprised two dance troupes, Sudameke and Kerrutajad, and included 26 dancers who ranged in age from 14 to 19. In addition to their performance at the Independence Day celebration, the group performed last week at McDaniel College as part of Common Ground on the Hill and at the Rotary Amphitheater at Carroll Community College.
Between performances, the teens were given time to explore the region. For many, it was their first-ever visit to the United States. The group visited Ocean City, went shopping at an outlet mall and attended a Frederick Keys baseball game.
Despite all the sightseeing and performing, dancer Robin Oja, 18, said he'll best remember the people he met in Maryland.
The group stayed in dorms at McDaniel College, and Oja said they had ample opportunity to meet the local community.
"Everyone is so friendly," he said. "People ask me, 'How are you doing?' and stuff like that. That would never happen in Estonia."
At the Keys game, he said a man in a shirt emblazoned with a bald eagle approached him to ask whether he planned to vote for Donald Trump for president in November. While he told the man he wasn't an American citizen, he said he had a long conversation with the man about the country and its politics, something he said was a highlight of the experience.
Oja said he wished he could take some of the things he found in Carroll County, like Walmart and Chick-fil-A, as well as the large front porches that adorn many area homes, back with him to Estonia.
"The whole thing was amazing," he said.
Dancer Paula Kivimae, 19, said her time spent in Maryland beat any other trip she's been on.
"I can say it was the best time of my life yet," Kivimae said after the show.
Bonnie Staub, tourism manager for the county, said she was disappointed with the weather Monday — the event was cut short at 6:30 p.m. and the fireworks show was canceled — but guessed that many of the people who attended did so because of the dancers, a sentiment echoed by a few attendees.
"I think it's been a great experience for [the dancers] as well as great for us," she said.
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