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Finland is well known for its vast stretches of forest and farmland broken up by some 187,888 lakes, the navigation of water through the land has over the year’s determined suitable areas for settlement and coincided with the development of towns and villages. Prior to the country’s well established network of roads, access to some towns and villages was limited.
In 1945 after the Second World War a new land reform was introduced as over half a million Finnish refugees needed relocating from the now Russian-owned Karelia in the south east of Finland. Areas of farmland were allocated to both refugees and the men returning home from war and one of the conditions placed on the resettlement were that they had to start a family.
It has been said that the popular leisure activity of couple dancing helped the Finnish population to spread out from its isolation. Dances such as the Finnish tango, polka, jenkka and marsukka became popular at the time with most songs written and performed by Finns at local dances. The location of some of the summer dance pavilions meant that neighbouring townsfolk would meet people outside of their close network and as a new confidence in the future grew, love and families were quickly made.
Dances are still advertised locally and are relatively easy to find if you know where to look. Some venues are seemingly hidden down dirt tracks surrounded by lakes and woodland, or on the outskirts of towns on the edges of industrial estates. They have seen some decline in popularity from younger generations but there still remains a certain nostalgia for the traditions which are held on the dancefloor and each summer people gather less for romance and love but for exercise and entertainment, or just for something to do. In typical Finnish fashion as one woman explained; “I’ve been dancing with the same man here for over five years and we dance wonderfully together, I still don’t know his name but that’s just how it is”.