I admit to being a block of wood, when it comes to mastering different dance genres. I have always secretly envied those whose bodies are gracefully bendy, which shakes rhythmically with the music. Now I have decided to seek professional help by participating in Johanna Torasvirta’s class, which is aimed at dummies with no clue about party dancing. Johanna is a theatre and dance teacher at the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki.
The class begins with Johanna’s promise about The Great Bluff. This means that the important thing is the attitude, which leads others to pay attention HOW you are doing instead of WHAT you are doing. We are not in this class to learn how to dance, but to create an illusion about a pro attitude, which overcomes us to be swept away with the music and party until the morning hours as social butterflies of a trendy club. ”The intention is to take control of the body basics and tips, with which we can create an impression of a street-smart dance style”, says Johanna. On top of this you get a sweaty hour’s worth of real exercise. We begin with salsa. ”The most important thing is not how your hips move, as long as they move”, Johanna advises. We remember rhythm and pause. We maintain bendy knees and step with the whole foot. We count ”one-two-three” and keep a twinkle in our eyes. ”Imagine you have buns under your arms and roll your shoulders”, Johanna urges and then shouts: ”Aim for that Latin attitude!”. No-one seems embarrassed.
The song changes and we switch on the fly to reggaeton, a popular street dance style, which has elements from salsa, reggae and hip hop. ”In reggaeton the flirtiness of salsa combines with a strict street attitude”, Johanna encapsulates the essence of reggaeton. Moving the pelvis continues to be important and a big behind is apparently a benefit. The more you have to shake, the better. Now we move on to a more fierce expression. The rib cage needs to move extensively. The movements are sharp and striking. One instinctively creates distance to others next to you. Johanna urges us to imagine that there is an unpleasant character next to us, whom you wish to push further. Now we begin to laugh.
Disco blasts from the speakers and Johanna begins to lead us through the decades, from the 1970’s to present day. ”Step and sidestep is the basic step of disco”, Johanna reminds us. The movement begins in the hips, where else. Hand movements are central, as we remember from Travolta films. All moves connected with swimming were part of an earlier genre. We hold you noses and pretend to go under the surface. We make waves and roll our bodies. In 90’s disco we throw complicated hand movements in every direction. There are clear traces of aerobics in Johanna’s dancing. We pretend to be pumping our biceps and do Jumping Jacks. At the change of the millennium the name of the game was ”disco meets hip hop”. During rap sections we mimic hip hop movements while the attitude is shown on our faces. In the latest style our hands express an artistic attitude and we pretend to know where we are taking them. Johanna urges us to interpret the lyrics. ”Up, Up, Up”, says the song and we reach with our hands towards the sky. Things are really heating up.
The culmination is hip hop. Now it is all in. A big ego, status, ME. The thighs and buttocks go to work. Down, up, down, up, ME! Hip hop is muscle control and the best stomach exercise. ”In you attitude is correct, the body stays tight”, Johanna challenges. The dancing is physically challenging, because the big muscles in the stomach and back, and thighs and buttocks are under heavy use. We express an ego boost by hand-grabbing. I notice that everyone has thrown oneself into to flow and the timidness from the beginning of the class is long gone. If you are interested in dancing or want to learn how to fake different dance styles with Johanna, explore the courses at www.helao.fi.
Written by Kristiina, The Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki