Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Wanhojen Tanssit

When the year threes leave the school to begin studying for their final exams it is the year 2’s turn to celebrate being the oldest members of the student community… And they do it in Style!
The Penkkarit celebrations end at 12pm when the year three's begin their truck ride around town. This is the time that the year 2’s head home to begin getting made up for the Wanhojen Tanssit-the dance of the Oldies. After rehearsing for 4 months choosing dresses and suits in the case of the young men. It was their big day.
I arrived in Finland too late to take part in the festivities but I had watched a couple of rehearsals and I was extremely excited to see how the night panned out and the reactions of the families who had been invited to watch. I had been told that it is the night where all the boys’ mothers cry because they see their son dressed in white tie and acting like a gentleman, washed and presentable and the girls’ mothers cry because the stress of the whole ordeal is over. For some un-explainable reason I wanted to see the parents cry. Creepy. Yes I am aware of that fact. 
Minna and I arrived early to find good seats, which we did. I had sat on the opposite side of the room to watch practices looking directly at the two leading couples.
The girls’ dresses were spectacular. Red was the favorite colour for the night. Most of the dresses were princess style with skirts that poofed out and thick festive fabrics. One girl wore an old-fashioned style dress, which looked great. 10 years ago all the girls would have been dressed in similar style but these days it is the modern dresses that are preferred. The boys were also dressed fancily. Some only wore normal suits but others were in penguin suits with tails. A few were even wearing gloves.
Over the practices I had noticed that one boy stood out from the rest. I call him good-dancing-boy and that pretty well sums him up. He was one of the leading pair and could dance insanely well and really gave it all his effort, which makes a huge difference in the overall performance. He was not they only good male dancer many other boys really got into the dancing, one even knew the dances so well he grooved along effortlessly totally loose and looking completely comfortable. I was surprised at how the boys were behaving because it is totally different to how I had seen them at school, quiet and shy.
The dances themselves are not traditional Finnish choreography the Wanhat tradition stems from the Swedish speaking communities who were at some point in Finnish history the wealthier classes. In their attempt to become more like European aristocracy they began practicing European dances. Today the typical repertoire consists of nine dances from all over the world. My two favorite dances were the least serious of the nine. They were not particularly good but entertaining to watch was people jerked their thumbs and kicked their legs. Good-Dancing-Boy managed to kick his foot higher then his head in this dance.
Half way through the mothers and fathers join their sons and daughters for a parent child dance. Some kids however danced with girl or boyfriends, sisters or brothers or friends. There were 3 such numbers and each Oldie danced at least one with a parental figure. The cutest couples were a boy who danced with his mum while holding his much younger sister and one girl who danced with her younger brother, who was smiling from ear to ear. I think they must have been practicing at home because the 10 year old boy knew the steps to the entire waltz.
The dancing concludes with two special dances. This may be exclusive to Lieksan Lukios Wanhojen Tannsits. The student dance choreographed by a group of girls can be poorly described as a cross between a ballroom and a hip-hop dance.  And the evening is capped of with the Poika Tannsit, the boys’ dance. I cannot imagine the Hale boys or any Australian born teenage male making up and performing anything like what the Lieksa boys did. It was a medley of several songs with thematic motifs to match each section. A Mexican wave, disco dance moves, the terminator dodge, a traditional Finnish dance and some death run (popular at heavy metal concerts) were all stylishly stitched together.
But Wanhat does not end when the night finishes. The next day the Oldie’s get back into (or have stayed in) their outfits and head to school. There they paint the year one’s faces with lipstick and feed them baby food! Over the day the year ones become more and more painted with Finnish world for baby and little kid covering their faces and necks. I have no idea how this tradition started but it’s quite awesome.
The oldies do not spend the entire day decorating their younger peers; they go around the community showing off their dancing skills in primary and elementary schools, banks and old peoples’ homes.
This made the event a real community affair and it is nice that the family and towns folk all get to be apart of it. I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to participate and wear an amazing dress but if I had I wouldn’t have been able to watch what happened and see how it all worked.  This is something else that should be brought to Australia. It doesn’t matter if a school has only boys or girls because two schools can join up to make a massive Tansit.
And Wanhojen tansits do come super-sized. After seeing all my classmates dance, Minna and I journeyed to Joensuu to watch the Wanhat there. The Karalian Military Band and the Joensuu City Orchestra conducted by Petri. Now it may seem over the top to get two professional music groups to play at a high school ball, however in Joensuu all 6 Lukios combined for the Wanhat night so their were 1 000ish dancers. It was a true spectacle and it was there where I spotted my ultimate favorite Wanhojen tansit dress. I had my favorites in Lieksa but this dress was the penultimate. It was beautiful and it moved so elegantly when the girl danced in it. If I were an oldie it would be the dress I would have worn.
It is the pink one.

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