Why Tango is Big in Japan and Finland

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Back in July, there was this article in the New York Times, Finnish Tango: The Passion and the Melancholy. It could come to a surprise to some that such a heated and emotional dance from Argentina could ever be embraced by those who live through the long, cold winters of Finland. According to the article, the tango in Finland was so popular before WWII that it was practically the national dance. With the rise of rock music, however, the tango practically became forgotten. Yet, the tango has now made a comeback but it is not identical to the Argentine origin. It is definitely its own style. While it’s brooding and passionate, it is more upbeat and melancholy which is described as being representative of the Finnish personality.

Scene from 1996 Japanese film Shall We Dance (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Finland isn’t the only surprising country to embrace the tango. Some joke that the tango is more popular in Japan than in Argentina. Somebody once explained to me the Japanese obsession with cute, furry, cuddly things, e.g., Hello Kitty, is a way of escaping the darker side of the Japanese soul. Finns have their own darkness: interminably long, dark, and cold winters (they also have nightless summers awash in vodka). Tango provides an elixir of comfort and a way of connecting for shy or socially awkward people. Tango, like in the wonderful 1996 Japanese film Shall We Dance, also helps shy people connect physically and emotionally as well. From its arrival in Buenos Aires over 100 years ago, tango has always had this split personality. Yet, take a couple steps of the tango and you can’t help but love it.

Here’s a tango lesson in Finland:

Here’s a video of getting kids to learn tango in Japan:

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