News & Notes

Vija Vētra - A century dedicated to dance

Latvian dancer from the United States, Vija Vētra (born 6 February 1923), celebrated her 100th birthday and was honoured in her home country, Latvia, on 20 June  2023. On her 100th birthday in February, diplomats from the Latvian representation at the U.N. in New York awarded Vētra a special Diploma of Achievement from the president of Latvia, H.E. Egils Levits.

Born in Riga, Latvia, Vētra is an acclaimed classical and contemporary dancer, choreographer and performer of Latvian traditional dance. Vija Vētra is also an Indian classical dancer and a path-breaking creator of the movement of sacred devotional dance in Latvia. During her artistic journey,  Vija Vētra has performed on stages of four continents and countless cities. A patriot of Latvia, she carried the name of her country even when the country was behind the Iron Curtain.

For Vija, dance is her life and single focus. Sacrificing family life, she devoted her life to the pursuit of art. During World War II, she studied at the Vienna Academy of Music and Performing Arts and the Vienna Conservatory Ballet chapter. However, she had to escape as a war refugee to Germany. In 1948, she immigrated to Australia and 1951, opened a dance studio in Sydney. Destiny had other plans for this young artist. While performing in Australia in the 1950s, Vija Vētra was cast as an Indian princess in a musical for the Sydney opera—this was a turning point in her life and the beginning of a life- long passion.


Her initial resource was only from available books written by authors like Ram Gopal (Indian Dancing, 1951 and Rhythm in the Heavens, 1958) and from pictures of Indian temple art. In the 1960s, she was invited to study dance by the Indian government and travelled frequently to India. She pursued Bharatanatyam with guru Chokkalingam Pillai in Madras and learnt Kathak while travelling to India. Years later, her 'guru in absentia'- Ram Gopal- invited her to perform in his dance company at the eminent Sadler's Wells Theatre in London and other European cities.

In 1967, she opened a dance study in New York City. While she continued to perform ballet, she focused on promoting and performing Indian classical dances.

In the 1960s, Vija Vētra returned to Europe to perform as a professional dancer and to teach young students. Since 1990, with support from the Latvian Culture Foundation, she has been visiting and performing in her country of birth, giving concerts and inspiring several generations of Latvian dancers.

Vija Vētra has received several high awards and recognition from the leadership of the Republic of Latvia. In 1999 she was awarded the highest civil award of the country – the Three Stars Order, and in 2018 – the Cabinet of Ministers prize for distinguished contribution to the nation's development. From 1966 to 1975, she appeared in fourteen episodes of the popular American television series- Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

In 1993, she founded the Unitarian Universalist Church in Riga, Latvia. She has been the subject of documentaries: Vijaya (2004) documentary film by  Ināra Kolmane, and  The World of Vija Vētra (2005), directed by Aleksandr Kostic. And Westbeth icon Vija Vētra (2018). Vija Vētra lives in New York, U.S.A. as a senior citizen in an artist residence in Manhattan on the shore of the Hudson River. She considers her decades of service to the arts the greatest joy.