Our teachers

Maija Riekstiņa

Mūzikas direktore | Music Director

Maija was formally educated in piano, voice, elementary music education and choral conducting at the University of Washington. She worked with Mežotne as music teacher from 1984 -1994. Maija began her work at Kursa as the music director in 1994 and has been a beloved teacher ever since. She founded the ladies’ ensemble “Sigulda” 30 years ago in Seattle, which has since expanded to the mixed-voice “Siguldas Balsis”. Maija has written and arranged numerous choral works for the ensemble, choir, and Kursa.

My passion is the study of our overwhelmingly rich culture in its song tradition, and teaching this to our young people so that they learn to appreciate our folktales and history. By concentrating the music instruction in Kursa in this manner, they are introduced to our “dainas” wherein exists the entirety of our culture. I strive to teach choral techniques so that many who have never participated in choral work, are introduced; many often elect to continue in choral work after returning to their respective high schools. The closing ceremony of each year’s session shows an aspect of our culture through song, word and dance. In this manner, I feel the students experience the subject matter more thoroughly and with more enjoyment.

Viktors Petzal-Pūpols

Vēsture | History

I graduated from a European gymnasium at age 15. There were 17 compulsory subjects, including Latin, and memorization played a large role. In my college years, I became an object of memory research, and was referred to in scientific literature. I graduated from the University of Washington with a major in Slavic and East European area studies. This was an interdisciplinary field and included languages, folklore, history, geography, economics, etc. I have taught at Kursa for 30 years. I also play chess and have a perfect lifetime score against Bobby Fischer.  

I explain Latvian history to the uninformed in one sentence: “Have you ever had a boss who was not as smart as you?” They all get it.

Inguna Galviņa

Literatūra | Literature

Born in Riga, but a long-time resident of LA, Inguna has been teaching at Kursa since the 1980s. She has a deep commitment to teaching her students the classics of  Latvian literature and the meaning of folk traditions.

Baiba Miķelsone

Tautas dejas | Folk dance

Baiba started Latvian folk dance in kindergarten and she has always loved being on stage. She realized she wanted to be a dance teacher when she began dancing in the folk dance group “Zalktis” under the direction of teacher and choreographer Arta Melnalksne. She works with dancers from the age of 2 to 45 years old; she teaches every one of them to tell a story with folk dance and to dance in joy.

Andris Rūtiņš

Rotkalšana | Jewelry Making

Andris is a master craftsman who specializes in reproducing ancient Baltic jewelry. Working in the Kursa smithy, Andris guides students in making their own Latvian jewelry from earrings to broaches to Namejs rings.

Maija Atvara

Rokdarbi / Latviskā virtuve | Handcrafts / Latvian Cuisine

Maija started working with handcrafts at 14 when she needed to sew a blouse for her folk costume, and she continued to teach herself. In 1991, after an exhibition in the Seattle Folklife festival, Maija became Skaidrīte Āboliņa’s student, when Skaidrīte received a scholarship from the Seattle Arts/folk art department to teach Latvian handcrafts, including belt weaving. They founded a handcraft group, which Maija took over when Skaidrīte moved. After retiring in 1999, Maija began working in the Mežotne and Kursa kitchens. Kursa’s then-director, Māra Zommere, invited Maija to teach the handcraft interest group; a few years later, she also started teaching Latvian cuisine.