Sometimes you have to dance,
That joy should not be forgotten!
Interview: Kirsi-Marja Vinberg
M.A., dance teacher, line dance instructor, choreographer, Pilates Instructor, Asahi Health Instructor
Interviewer: Sirpa Hammar, a childhood friend
Dancing has been a part of your life since our school years. Before your career as a dance teacher, you danced social dances, tap dance, samba, and flamenco. Where does this passion for dance come from?
Probably from our dance productions that we performed for our relatives and other people. Using your imagination was already important back then. We also went to the dance classes of Åke Blomqvist.
Yes, first the classes and then we started to do our own dance theater performances for our relatives and performed for example at Lions Club parties.
We got excited about dancing at the dance classes. We went to Kirka’s gigs and danced almost the whole time! I’m sure that’s where it all started, we tried to perform song lyrics by dancing.
Then we started to make stories.
We had for example the Traffic Tango, where we danced based on the traffic signs the assistants showed. And Mr. Moonlight, which was more philosophical… And of course the Story for Dance, that was a story and a dance we wrote – and we performed about 10 roles between just the two of us!
We were quite scared to express ourselves verbally, right? We were shy.
Yes, dance was somehow freer.
Although, I also wrote poems. Were the poems part of our performances?
The poems were not directly in the dances, but that shows that there was creativity and a will to express it even back then. Perhaps creativity was looking for the right channel. You also sang.
Even studied singing. I was one of the first female singers to participate in the Tango King singing competition. Back then, there wasn’t a separate Tango Queen competition. I’ve always liked the powerful feeling of Finnish Tango, so I sent a cassette tape and surprisingly, I made it to the semifinals.
You taught partner dances to your classmates back when we were in school.
We had classes in the living room. Back then, though, I didn’t have the psychological understanding, I was a tough lady. A precocious girl, who noticed all mistakes and nagged if someone didn’t learn. Already back then, teaching was very important.
You studied Finnish, Theater and Ethnomusicology at university.
Theater Studies was also exploring dance. For my Master’s thesis, I spent 5 weeks in India to get to know Indian ballet. I saw many theater performances and interviewed choreographers, especially Manjusri Chaki-Sircar. She was an important influential person in Indian ballet, a dancer-choreographer whose amazing ballet performance I based my thesis on.
What made you switch from academia to teaching dance?
Teaching and the essence of dance – and what people can experience through dance – felt important. If you have a good leader, it’s great to follow. Wordless discussion using movement is fascinating. The symbiosis of music and movement is an amazing experience. I thought it would be nice to teach, to know how to give people something new in their life – especially for those who don’t know anything about dancing. In addition, the athletic side interested me, as I was athletic since I was a little girl – and determined. I respect Lasse Viren, so I tried to get myself in top shape by running around a small garden, doing gymnastic movements and biking.
My father was very athletic, so he was a good example for me. I was inspired especially by male long-distance runners. Office work was never for me, although I did try that – for several years in fact. I thought I’d like a profession where I could move.
Where and when did you graduate as a dance teacher?
In 1997 from Voionmaa Institute.
And right after you graduated you started your own company?
My company was Aurinkorytmi. At first, I gave private classes and did some smaller classes. Teaching dance was a part-time job at first. Then I got work from multiple civic colleges. I taught social dances at first, then line dancing as well, a hobby of mine of several years.
Now, I mostly teach line dancing to seniors, as well as some Pilates, Asahi and partner dances.
As an entrepreneur, do you have time to improve yourself professionally?
Not really, but when I have some free time I do choreography. I have improved on those. The more critical of yourself you become, the longer it takes to do one choreography.
I want to improve as a teacher. I have studied many different dance styles.
How important are associations and organizations in the field?
They are important, as they are a way to meet others interested in dance, and they are a channel for your own ideas too. On the other hand, not being tied to organizations is fascinating: you can promote your own ideals. I would like associations to promote line dance more, as now it’s in the shadow of competitive dance.
A teacher needs social skills. I bet you have improved on those since our school years’ dance classes.
Yes and yes. It’s fun and challenging to figure out how to express things differently, how to teach differently. I think and develop new ways: especially in line dance, it depends on the dance how I will teach it.
What about the social aspect in the field, what does it mean to you?
During the past few years, I have noticed how well Finns are involved in organizing events and encouraging each other, creating a positive atmosphere.
Thank you to everyone who has helped me to improve and change, in this field and as a person, especially:
A. Koskela from Tampere who sparked my interest in the challenging art of teaching dance!
Jorma Leitzinger who has given me important advice on how to do choreography!
The SRO Association (formerly SCT), which organizes the annual line dance instructors’ meeting: thanks to Association for giving me a recognition award in 2007!
The West community of Hämeenlinna and Turku have taught me so many important things about dance, doing choreography, and life in general! Especially in making choreography I have received a lot of help from Tiina Aalto (for example Crying Heart dance) and Juho Päivinen (Broken Arrows dance)!
Rock & Swing coaches Pirjo and Tommi Koivula: thank you for all the positive teaching! A positive attitude and well-organized events are creating more pleasure in dancing and learning new figures.
Thank you to all the choreography performance group’s dancers! Especially the Koskela family, Raija Suhonen, Pia Herlin, Pirjo Takala, Elina Strömberg, Rita Hakkarainen and Hellevi Härkönen. We have danced together in so many national and world championships!
Thank you to the SENIO line dance performance group!
The Kantola family, Jukka Pirinen, Alf Skogster, Eija Partanen, Sirpa Saari and Kristiina Patrikainen: thank you for all the collaboration!!
There are so many choreographers who have made an impact on me. To mention a few, I admire the Finnish choreographers Mikael Mölsä, Minna Liljamo, Helvi Seppälä, Tarja Eriksson and Heidi Strid. I also admire choreographer Jo Thompson, who creates simple and beautiful choreography.
I have done so many dances together with instructors and students. One of those dances, “Get Off”, performed by Sanna Heikkinen, was successful in a choreography competition. Thank you Sanna! Another delightful project was creating dance called Pienen kansan voima (the Power Of A Small Nation) with Jukka Pirinen and Kristiina Patrikainen!
To Raili and Mauri Kantola, thank you for your support and collaboration!
Thank you Kirsti Rimpilä, the Line Dance Instructor of the Year 2011, for providing me technical support! Birgitta Sipilä, the Line Dance Instructor of the Year 2013, we had a great experience as roommates during Ideapäivät! And Mervi Mäkelä, we danced Minna Liljamo’s choreography in a competition – I think it was the world championships!
I remember Terhi Hulkkonen from many competitions, especially from the challenging Pro Am competitions. Hers and Riikka Tiiainen’s (the Get in Line Finnish Champion) considerate kindness made an impact on me.
The thank yous don’t stop, because friends are even more important:
First and foremost, thank you Hilkka Front and your family: because of you I have changed from a shy person to a more open one. As Hilkka says: “I make a map of every dance in my mind, so I can anticipate the direction of the dance.”
Thank you Sirpa Hammar, Soila Väisänen, Tuula Alanko and Kirsi Pulli for the countless moments together and the support at every step of the way!
Friends make their own lines in your heart and give new directions for the heart to follow and grow.
Teaching, dancing, making choreography. Which one is the most important to you?
All of them are important. I love teaching and I love doing choreography, but every now and then, I just have to dance. You should never forget the joy of dancing!
It makes me wild when I can follow a good leader. Endorphins run through me as if I just went jogging.
Your creativity shows in you creating new courses as well.
To balance the waltz, tango (international, American and Finnish) and social dance classes, I have taught Latin dances too. For private lessons, I have created and taught wedding dances too. Being a teacher, the joy of dance is the most important matter. When you’re not competing, the joy is more real.
So you specialize in teaching line dance. How did you get into it?
My friend took me to Kantri-Star located in Mäkelänkatu, where they taught line dance once a week. Line dancing was a new experience. You didn’t need a partner, you could just focus on your own performance.
Why is line dance so popular, what is its attraction?
Line dancing has become more popular, but I can’t say how it will do in the long run. Line dance might live for a long time, like social dances, as the classes have dancers from different ages – and line dance has such great effects! Line dancing improves your memory: in dances, it’s important to remember the order of the steps. Remembering is made more challenging by having so many dances, thousands! Line dancing is good for your motor skills and to body control. In partner dances, the partner is always part of your balance for example in turns. Line dance could be important for especially seniors for these reasons.
Line dances for senior line dancers are simpler. Still, they maintain the balance. It’s easier to move when you have practiced balance. Teaching seniors is challenging, you have to come up with many different ways to teach. Their enthusiasm is encouraging.
The diversity of line dance
Line dancing is not just country – there are Irish line dances too, where you dance to Irish music. Actually, you can dance to any music: cha cha, samba, rumba… If you dance to for example rumba, the moves are adopted from rumba. This is how you get to experience different dance styles. However, the basis of line dance is country and dances done to that music are usually easier, so that’s why I teach my beginners classes dances done to country music.
You’ve done line dances to for example tango.
I have done many tango line dances. “La Cumparsita” was successful in the Finnish Championships.
How does making choreography and designing classes differ from each other?
They’re pretty different. Well, when you create a dance you have to think to whom you’re making the dance. The moves should be easy and the continuity of them is important – how you switch from one move to another.
You have to consider the dancer. You can make the dance easily teachable. My competitive dances are pretty challenging though.
How many choreography have you done?
I haven’t kept count, probably several dozens.
You have participated in line dance competitions as a choreographer and you have been successful. How have you placed in competitions?
2002 Line Dance Finnish Championships
Category: choreography to non-country music
1st place with “Nieve” (Rumba)
2003 Line Dance Finnish Championships
Category: choreography, non-country music
3rd place with “La Cumparsita” (Tango)
2004 Line Dance Finnish Championships
Category: choreography, non-country music
2nd place with “Everybody Cha-Cha (Cha-Cha)
2004 Line Dance Finnish Championships
3rd place with “Dream Story Cha-Cha” (Cha-Cha)
2005 Line Dance Finnish Championships
Category: choreography, country music
1st place with “Burning Polka”
2005 Line Dance Finnish Championships
1st place with “Tyttö tuollainen”
2005 Line Dance Finnish Championships
Category: choreography, non-Country music
2nd place with “Orfeo Negro” (Rumba)
2007 Line Dance teacher of the year, SCT (The Finnish Country Dance Teachers’ Association)
2009 Line Dance Showdown
1st place with “El Choclo” (Tango)
2012 World Dance Masters
2nd place with “Eskimo Tango”
2015 World Dance Masters
3rd place with “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” (Boogie woogie)
I have also successfully competed in several international competitions.
Besides competitions, there are different line dance events here and abroad that you participate in.
I’ve been to two line dance World Championships to learn from world class teachers and to see how competitions are held: what are the categories and what do they include. There’s a lot of teaching in competitions too. The best teachers teach their own dances and techniques.
There’s an annual line dance event in Pärnu, Estonia. In Finland, there’s for example the Lohja Dance Weekend where a lot of good teachers attend.
How do you keep yourself interested in teaching and doing choreography?
I try to switch class contents and styles of teaching. I also try to find new dimensions in the work by doing dance videos and planning new classes.
Do you have time for other hobbies?
Not really. In my spare time, I like to read, listen to music and of course do different sports!
Does everyone know how to dance? Can anyone learn to dance?
Yes. Everyone can dance in his or her own way. The most important thing is to find the channels of expression suitable for you. If you want to express yourself by dancing, you can do it. And you can always improve in dancing!
There’s a lot of exercises that you can incorporate into dancing. Tibetan rites strengthen the body and posture. Pilates helps to find new muscles and to use them. Pilates also helps with posture.
Dancing is about desire and will. If you’ve listened to a lot of music, it’s easier to get into dancing – otherwise it might be hard.
So dancing is listening?
Yes, very much so. Often people hear different things in music. Some listen to the singing, some to the melody. Some to the guitar solos, some to the drums, or any of the wonderful instruments! When you dance, you can for example express the words of the songs or you can follow a certain instrument.
What is the most important thing in dance and in learning to dance?
Joy, ease. Dancing opens up in a completely new way when you’re relaxed – when you like the music, your hands will follow. Finns often don’t use their hands when dancing. Although, in line dance hands are only used in the competitive level. But if you enjoy the music, it moves to your feet and the whole body.
The sense of rhythm is also important. It depends on what you’re looking for though. In social dances, rhythm is very important, because it’s easier for the couple to dance together when they are both dancing in the same rhythm. In disco dance the rhythm is not that important, you just go and swing.
You can also improve your sense of rhythm. The most important thing is the joy of dancing.
Does dance improve you in other ways than just as a dancer?
Dance is a way to improve your social life. In line dance classes, you chat, and the guys might go to a line dance event together. People come to social dance classes usually with a partner, so dancing is not social in the same way in those classes.
Are there enough places to practice dancing?
It feels like in the Helsinki area there’s never enough places to dance. In restaurants, the dance floors are too small and people go there mostly to get drunk and falter around.
Your favorite dance?
Motto of the day?
“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up. ” Pearl Buck