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Dancing My Way Across the Globe

Namaste!

Rosinka reporting from the other side of the globe (India)! No seriously, the time difference is 13,5 hours so it’s literally the other side.

Anyways. Life here is hectic and finding time for extra writing is quite challenging, but I’m glad I was offered this chance to continue sharing some of my experiences with you.
So then, let’s proceed!

Dancing has been on my mind a lot lately. I love it. But I’ve also been scared of it ever since my short-lived attempt at ballet at the age of five. It was the first or second lesson of my then bright ballet career when the teacher declared to the whole class that my bends looked like I was trying to use a potty. Gravely offended, the five year old me quit dancing altogether believing that I was helplessly ungraceful and uncoordinated. One semester in the Willamette dance team did wonders to that misconception of mine. It’s not that suddenly I see myself as a slightly unpolished prima ballerina, but at least I have regained the confidence to just go for it and dance simply because I like it.

But yeah, that ballet school was bad… And in general, my understanding of dancing in Russia is very limited. There is the traditional dancing that you see in movies—The Fiddler on the Roof or the Pinocchio for example—which involves a whole lot of stomping and kicking, but I have never ever seen somebody actually dance like that. On the other hand, what I assume being the female version of the traditional dance is much more common. In our church, for example, during celebrations, the women would form a human chain and sway-step all around the room. The dance is basically just that – stepping in rhythm; sometimes just forward, sometimes with a sidestep or kick. Although simple to join in, this form of dancing is definitely not very gripping or motivating, so I almost forgot it exists. The more contemporary form of dancing that belongs to the night-club scene is even more unfamiliar to me. I did attend a kid’s disco twice as a pre-teen but those memories are better left buried. Why? Let me just remind you readers of the time when you went to that one dance in high school, or even better – middle school, and just stayed in some corner swinging awkwardly to the songs you don’t know. Remember that feeling?

Moving on.

Finland, surprisingly, pays a whole lot of attention to dancing despite of being a very introverted culture. Sure, the traditional barn or market dances are becoming extinct and the only places I’ve ever seen people really dance are weddings (dance competitions and such don’t count). But most Finns know at least the basics of ballroom dance. In schools, in fact, dancing is a mandatory part of PE and music education. I was greeted by this fact first week of my eight grade when I had just transferred to the school in Finland. I didn’t know anyone in my class, yet I was paired up with another awkward 13-year old. The poor boy was so uncomfortable he barely touched me. Which was ok until the teacher saw it. Then what did she do? “Waltz is a couple’s dance so you should hold your partner, not just dance next to her” – she said, grabbed his arm and with an audible impact wrapped it around my waist. Good times.

Since then, I’ve learned some basic dancing with more or less willing partners, reaching the high point in ‘vanhojentanssit’ (literally ‘the dance of the old’), translated into American – prom. However, this dance is different from prom in many ways. First of all, it is arranged in February of the second year of the upper secondary school. We only have three grades in the upper secondary, and the third year students stop attending school in February to start preparing for their finals. So the dance is the marker of the day when the second-years become the oldest students in school. Hence the name ‘dance of the old’. Secondly, the dance itself is more like a ballroom dance performance rather than an actual dance. The girls will wear ballgowns or even historic dresses. The students train once or twice a week and these sessions are counted as a PE class. During this time they learn several dance choreographies that are finally performed to the parents and the rest of the school. The choreographies vary from school to school, but at least in our upper secondary, when I went to see my cousins dance two years after graduation, the soundtrack and dances were exactly the same with the exception of maybe two dances.

So , as I said, pretty different from prom. But then, after the performance, there is usually an after-party which is (way) more relaxed and noisy. After which, unless specifically interested, most people will not dance until some close relative’s (or their own) wedding.

Quite different from the people I am surrounded by now. It’s not that all Indians dance, but at least they are not that scared of it, since the whole culture is dance-friendly. (I mean, look at Bollywood). And some people really do know how to dance. Not exactly Bollywood style, but you see they love what they’re doing. And I’m doing my best to learn from them.

So then, Bearcats, have a great spring semester and go see the JSSL team dance!

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