TALLINN, July 4 (Xinhua) -- Estonia kicked off on Thursday a grand four-day song and dance festival to mark its trational heritage, with the opening dance performance of the 20th Estonian Dance Celebration.
About 11,500 dancers from 713 dance groups, including 15 expatriate groups, participated in the Dance Celebration at the Kalev Stadium, which was almost filled to its capacity, said the organizers.
The guest groups participating in the Dance Celebration are coming from Australia, Belgium, Ireland and Luxembourg. Participants of the Dance Celebration aged from 5 to 74.
Delivering a speech before the arrival of the flame of the Celebration at the Stadium, Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas said the event highlighted the theme "My Fatherland is My Love".
"The 20th Dance Celebration tells the story of our country in the language of dance. The joy and honor to love one's country and its land is beyond words," said Vaike Rajaste, main choreographer of the Dance Celebration in a message on the program booklet.
Besides the dress rehearsal earlier Thursday afternoon, there are three identical dance performances each lasting two and a half hours with the second and third performances on Friday, according to the program.
On Saturday, the Song Celebration will start with a procession which passes through the main streets of Tallinn and reaches the Song Festival Grounds after the 5 km walk. The Song Festival Grounds fit up to 100,000 people.
The Song Celebration will attract 1,020 choirs, including 25 Estonian choirs from abroad and 17 foreign choirs, bringing the number of the singers to over 35,000 in total, the organizers say. The oldest participant is 90 years of age!
Moreover, Folk Music Celebration has become an inseparable part of the Dance and Song Festival and brings together the musicians from all over Estonia to present two separate concerts on Thursday night and Friday afternoon respectively.
"This is how our folk song sounds and invites, and this is how our song and dance celebrating will merge our hearts," said Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid in a message.
Estonian Minister of Culture Tonis Lukas said: "Our common commitment to singing and dancing has kept the tradition of song celebration alive."
This year's events mark the 150th anniversary of the first song celebration and the 85-year-old dance celebration in the country.
Estonia's first nationwide song festival was held in Tartu in 1869, and the previous Song Celebration.
Originally proclaimed in 2003, Baltic song and dance celebrations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's Representative List of intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.