Thursday, June 18, 2009

Finnish tango on a white night

We are 3 nights from the longest day of the year. I have to admit that I don't understand how the days could get any longer and the nights any shorter: last night I was apparently up all through sunset, night and sunrise. Except that I never noticed it get dark. Hence I didn't even consider asking what time it was, and found myself crawling (in broad daylight) to my room at 2am.

These 'white nights' are celebrated by the long Midsummer weekend in Finland. And to begin the celebrations a little early, the forestry students threw a party last night. By party, I mean full-out dance party. The theme was 1950s - and while I might have expected a few poodle skirts and leather jackets - indeed, several of the girls did have puffy skirts - you must remember that most forestry students are male. And 1950s fashion at Hyytiala apparently involved a lot of plaid, flannel, suspenders and fedoras: yes, the stereotypical 1950s Finnish man was a lumberjack. But it gets even more awesome...

While some American parties might be themed, they rarely take the extreme measure of adapting music and social customs to the evening. This was different. The hall (one of the original 1910ish wood buildings at the field station) was decorated with birches - branches the size of small trees towered on either side of every door. The music was genuine 1950s Finnish dance hall music - lots of accordion and some surprisingly excellent voices. Everyone was given a brief dance lesson - the basics of the waltz, the foxtrot, the Finnish tango (which is nothing like Argentinean tango, and similar to the foxtrot), and a couple of traditional Finnish dances including the humppa (pron. oompah). There is a jump-y dance called the yenka (sp?) that is very tricky and loads of fun. I have yet to master it. I tried hard, though.

Once the dancing began, the gentlemen were beautifully courteous, escorting their partners to and from the dance floor. There was a clear 'men's side' and women's side' of the room - though the unequal gender balance of a forestry research station meant that there were no wallflowers. There were signs held up when dances were "Women's choice" (Naissen Haku).

There was one notable pause between the waltzes and foxtrots in which some hiphop was played, and one of the students did some surprisingly impressive break dancing.

Needless to say, I had a blast - especially when one of my friends, who turns out to be one of the best dancers with whom I've ever had the pleasure of waltzing, reminded me how to jive and taught me the Swedish version of swing dancing. It was slightly surreal to find myself being twirled to Elvis Presley in a 1910 dance hall in the middle of a forest in Finland. Did I mention that I LOVE this country?

And that's just the beginning: no matter what your experiment or job, staying at the field station over Midsummer is culturally unacceptable, so I accepted an invitation to a co-worker's cottage for Midsummer weekend (cottage. lake. sauna. forest. for a change of scenery and all), and have been promised that Friday and Saturday night will be spent at the nearby Dance Hall. Bring on the Finnish tango. And perhaps a little more Elvis...

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