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Thousand-strong outdoor "Man-Dance Party" celebrates Finland's centennial

Organisers put on a unique show as more than 1,000 men filled a baseball field in Lapua to dance their hearts out in celebration of Finland's 100th anniversary. Choreographer Ari Nummi describes the spectacle, inspired by an Estonian tradition, as "visual theatre".

A group of about a thousand Finnish men, mostly locals with little to no public dancing experience, took part in a choreographed, free-for-all spectacle in a baseball field in Lapua, Western Finland, on Saturday. The massive show, called the "Man-Dance Party", is an official part of Finland's centennial celebrations.

The event was organised by a working group composed of four professionals: dancer Jukka Haapalainen, veteran rock musician Heikki Salo, who composed and performed the event's theme song, and chief choreographer Ari Numminen and assistant choreographer Timo Saari.

Heikki Salo laulaa ja miehet tanssivat.
Salo sang during the finale. Image: Hanne Leiwo/Yle
The event gathered together males of all ages. For many middle-aged participants, this was the first time they had danced publically in decades – some hadn't cut the rug since their own weddings.

"These guys may look like regular Joes, but the fact that they were willing to join in shows that they possess real courage," Numminen said.

As the party's website reads, "in this dance event, the centre stage is for men to throw themselves into the world of dance. Together."

Inspiration and heart

Plans for the Man-Dance Party started coming together years ago, when a group of Lapuans visited their twin city of Rakvere, Estonia. The town hosts a dance spectacle called Meeste tantsupidu every few years, attended by thousands of men.

The visitors loved the idea, and choreographer Numminen set to work on his theatrical extravaganza, dubbed the Man's Story. The plan called for 1,917 men to take part, to commemorate Finland's independence in the year 1917, but eventually many more than that showed up.

"Men navigate a world that is constantly changing. A man must take in new phenomena during his travels," muses Numminen.

Tangoa Mies - tanssipidoissa Lapuan pesäpallokentällä.
A tango number. Image: Hanne Leiwo/Yle
The performance featured a main role of "the Man", which was danced by Lapua politician and amateur thespian Kai Pöntinen. Everyone so inclined was welcome to take part in the high-spirited communal ball.

Estonian brothers

Rehearsals were organised in various parts of Southern Ostrobothnia over the past six months. Some Estonian dancers also came along for the Finnish version of the Rakvere tradition.

Pöntinen says everything that happened on the field came from the heart. While professional dancers were also involved, everyone was encouraged to jump in regardless of skill level.

"We're all different and we have different skills. I was definitely drawn in by the whole thing," says former national ice hockey team star Timo Jutila, who played himself in the Man's Story.

"It sounded really weird to begin with, and I thought I was being pranked when they asked me. But then I thought this is great: the country is turning 100 and a whole bunch of guys are getting down."

The Man-Dance Party was an official part of the year-long Suomi 100 centennial celebration, and was sponsored by more than a dozen companies and organisations.

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