Dance and art

Finland goes for the Tango

Tango was born in the working class neighborhoods of Buenos Aires at the end of the 19th century, but it has also conquered what is usually a rather sleepy town in the Arctic, in northern Finland.

Two Tango dancers in action

A fever for the Tango

As far as the eye can see, couples dance the tango in the tree-lined street under a brilliant cobalt blue sky. It's 2 a.m. and the sun has barely dipped below the horizon - and it will soon rise again.

The sound of the accordion fills the warm summer air and the orchestra starts to play - the drums, then the violins. The singer bursts into a song called Satumaa, or Fairytale Land.

The most popular and frequently performed tango song in Finland describes a distant and idyllic land where people live happily. But in this sad melody, the land can only be reached through music.

Tango Street

This is Tangokatu, or Tango Street, in Seinajoki - a small town three hours by train north of Helsinki. The main street of Seinajoki was renamed especially for the tango festival, which is the highlight of the Finnish tango calendar.

This five-day festival has been going on for almost 30 years and attracts more than 100,000 tango-loving Finns. And there are all kinds. Men in sandals, cut-off denim shorts and cowboy hats. An elderly couple in matching shell suits. Women wearing leopard print and polka dot dresses - and there's a lot of leather.

Why such a craze for tango?

I came to find out why the Finns are so in love with tango. After all, they are stereotyped as being withdrawn and quiet. They are not the fiery, Latin American type.

Tango came to Finland in the 1920s and 1930s after being exported from Buenos Aires. But it was during the war that the Finns made this music their own.

The lyrics of lost love and grief struck a chord with those who had lost loved ones in the fighting - and these sad songs, which are almost always played in the minor key, have remained firmly embedded in the national consciousness ever since.

The Finnish version is slower and simpler - melodies from old Finnish and Russian waltzes are woven throughout the piece. The accordion replaces the Argentinean bandoneon.

The dance is also different. The women do not make big leg movements, but the Finns dance closer to each other, with their bodies tightly packed together.

The tango, almost a national death for the Finns!

In a cramped, stuffy gym, tango moves are scrutinized in a dance competition. A woman with long blonde hair in a crushed red-velvet dress glides by. A brunette in bright yellow sails the other way.

One couple, Sari and Raine Ristola, have been competing in Seinajoki for 10 years - and the emotions are as strong for them now as they were the first time they danced here.

Raine can't express his feelings in words. Instead, he rolls up a shirt sleeve to reveal an arm covered in goosebumps. Then Raine's blue eyes suddenly light up. "When we dance, it's like falling in love all over again. The feeling is so strong," he says.

Like Sari and Raine Ristola, most people here are middle-aged. But some young people can be seen dancing the same steps as their grandparents before them. The tango festival ends with an X-Factor style TV singing contest in the cavernous Seinajoki Arena. Six contestants, all in their twenties and thirties, were elected by text message for today's finale. But only one will be crowned Tango King or Queen of the Year.

This is a major event. Former kings and queens have become big celebrities. Even the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, is here tonight

A singer stands out by singing a tango version of a popular Finnish pop song. Pekka Mikkola - a music student from the northern city of Oulu - is the latest person to join Finland's only royalty.

"I've already got a big head," Pekka jokes as he struggles to put on the crown. He has every reason to be happy - a record deal, a full national tour and instant fame await him.
At three o'clock in the morning, the sun is already starting to appear on the horizon on the Tangokatu. The future partners will soon meet for the first time and share their first tango together. The feet tap, the eyes close, the bodies swing to the rhythm of the music.

I remember what Arja Koriseva - a former tango queen from Seinajoki - told me earlier in the day. Her parents gathered to dance tango in a wooden room deep in the Finnish forest. Finns may be quiet, she said, but tango gives voice to their feelings.

If you have been touched by our story, you are probably already looking for Tango teachers near you.

If you are still not convinced, you should read the article of our colleagues : Why should you learn to dance Tango?

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