Thursday, February 28, 2002

February 2002

I have now had some private lessons with Leena Blomqvist. As I suspected, the Finnish tango is very simple with no figures. Stepping outside one’s partner is about as complex as it gets. The timing is a steady SSQQ and Leena told me off several times for not sticking to it. I was constantly deciding the music was saying something else and altering my timing accordingly, which is wrong.
Another lesson was on the valssi, and Leena explained the differences between the Viennese and Finnish waltzes. Her word for “Viennese” was Wienisch, so when she said “the Wienisch waltz is X, but the Finnish waltz is Y” it was rather difficult to follow. But the basic differences are:

The Finnish waltz has no subsidiary emphasis on the second beat.
It is slower (about 50 bars per minute, compared with 60+ for Viennese).
There are no heel leads or rise and fall.
Steps are very small.
There is no need to progress round the room, and it is acceptable to twirl round on the spot, or just sway from side to side.

Steps are as follows:
1. Small step forward, turning
2. Even smaller step to side, turning.
3. Continue turning. A loose cross will happen by itself.
4. Transfer weight, turning.
5. Roughly close without weight, turning. Do not attempt precise heel pivot.
6. Continue to turn, without weight.

The result is that very little energy is expended compared with the Viennese waltz. It is quite easy to dance cheek to cheek, or gazing into your partner’s eyes. The Finnish waltz is sensuous, dreamy and romantic rather than a vigorous athletic exercise. As it is so much less energetic, it is not necessary to reverse so often. Some people do not reverse at all.
An English version of the Blomqvists’ tango video is now available, so I bought one. It covers several versions of the tango: Finnish, English (ie ballroom), American (a sleeker and less jerky version of ballroom), Royal Empress, and Argentine. The music Åke chose for the last was not Argentine at all but Dutch: Guapita by Arie “Malando” Maasland. But as Åke says at the end of the video “the Finnish tango is the most important tango in the world”.
I had ample opportunity to put all this into practice. The Vanhan Tanssikellari opens at 4 in the afternoon and continues until 2 next morning. The dancing starts promptly too: no question of people gradually drifting in and nothing happening for an hour or two. I can now not only valssi, but also rhumba, cha-cha, samba, and jive cheek to cheek. It involves large-scale restructuring of the dances and they then bear little resemblance to the original, but then the versions taught in ballroom classes are hardly authentic. None of my partners seemed to have any problem with my tango timing.
It is rare for women to dance with each other but very common for them to invite men. I only asked two ladies - the rest of the time they asked me. One of my partners was a very glamorous Katie Boyle lookalike who kissed me on the cheek and whispered “kiitoksia”. This is the emphatic inflexion of “kiitos” (thank you) and any Finn who says it is being very gushy and effusive.
It is always amusing when foreigners live up to their stereotypes. I watched a Finnish version of Blind Date. The couple from the previous week were shown on their date, seated on opposite sides of a restaurant table gazing solemnly at each other and not saying a word.
Now to CDs. Stockmanns were extremely helpful as usual and when I described a group as “three ladies who were on TV last night. The leader was a big fat blonde lady” the assistant knew exactly who I meant and immediately got out Rakkauden kertokulku by Marjorie, Anneli Saaristo, and Eija Kantona (ARXCD 1198). No name for the group as a whole, but then Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch didn’t have one either. I wonder how HMV in the Galleries would have managed if someone had unflatteringly described Mick Jagger in Finnish. Only two tangos on the CD, but one is a corker: Surutyö. Highly emotionally charged, the tempo varies constantly and Anneli Saaristo (the big blonde) uses all of her impressive compass. Surutyö means “bereavement” but it is a barely recognisable version of Milonga Sentimental. Some people will hate this. I love it. The other tango is Täyttä elämää, another wild one. Excellent non-tango tracks are the bossa nova Rum and Coca Cola, which is all in Finnish apart from the words in the title, and Kypsän naisan blues.
All three ladies have issued solo albums. Täyttä elämää by Marjorie (496411-2) has the same tango as the CD above, but is worth getting for a really exciting rock number: I. You. This again is all in Finnish apart from the words in the title. The accompaniment is minimal - mainly bass - and Marjorie embellishes her singing with sighs and growls. Absolutely marvellous.
Arja Koriseva (4509-99994-2) has the gentle jives Hymyhuulet, which Cliff Richard fans will recognise as Lucky Lips, and Tuttu juttu (alias Stupid Cupid). The best track is the delightful samba Hienohelma.
Kymmenen ensimmäistä vuotta by Arja Koriseva (8573-87781-2) is a 2 CD set. There are 4 tangos, but all of them are on Tango Illusion which I have mentioned before. On CD2 is a little gem - Kun tyttö rakastuu. Only 1 minute 56 seconds, it is a wonderful little foxi with a trad jazz flavour.
Tango for Four No 2 (8573-88781-2) is by a Finnish group in spite of its name. Sleeve notes are in English and Finnish. It is a very avant-garde jazzy instrumental treatment of 12 tangos, 6 of them Finnish. La Cumparsita is nice and lively and the tune remains recognisable throughout, which cannot be said for all the others. This CD would be difficult to dance to but I imagine it would be rewarding if one succeeded.
Täältä ikuisuuteen, by Taina Kokkonen (Sonet 014 129-2) has four pictures of the delectable Taina. With her ash-blonde hair, almost perfect teeth (a tiny irregularity showing that they are real), pretty blue blouse decorated with broderie anglais and showing just a hint of cleavage, she is everybody’s unelmatyttö (dream girl). The CD itself is powder blue, with little flowers round the edge. All very well, you say, but what does it sound like? Exactly as you might expect - soft, sweet and gentle, the easiest of easy listening. Two tangos - Rakkauden yö, which is even more sugary than Mira Kunnasluoto’s version, and Satiininvalkeat yöt - very lush and ballroomy. Also Merituulen tarina, a very pretty waltz, and some nice gentle foxtrots - Suudelmiin (slow) and Tanssikengät naurava suu (fast). I defy anyone not to go dewy-eyed over this CD.