What is so comical about old choreography?

Curator's Note

Many of the most widely circulated clips of old Finnish television entertainment feature dancing. For example, this performance of “I Want to Love You Tender“ by Armi & Danny, a successful 1970s duo, was popular on the Internet even before YouTube took off. What is it about dancing that makes it so recyclable as comedy?

Television comedy that relies on dialogue doesn’t always work very well decades later; if the viewers don’t understand the references to contemporary events the comedy falls flat. With dance performances, however, the viewers’ inability to quite understand the frame of reference of the performance can make it even funnier. For the Internet user, it is often unclear whether a performance was originally meant as serious or as a joke. For example, Gregorius’ Finnish language version of “YMCA” perplexed viewers when it briefly became the most watched clip on Youtube this autumn. Dressed in sports gear, Gregorious and a group of male backing dancers perform a curious choreography. Was this really considered cool in the 1970s Finland? No it wasn’t – the performance was originally meant as a joke. Uncertainty about the intentions of the performers often adds to the fascination of old dance performances.

Performances like “I Want to Love You Tender“ also appeal to popular Finnish understandings about 1970s Finland. Finnish popular culture was for a long time criticised at home for being old fashioned and out of touch with international trends. The Finnish language version of “I Want to Love You Tender“ was a huge hit in Finland and is well known even today as an example of kitsch 1970s schlager. The existence of an English language version seems to indicate that Armi and Danny harboured some dreams of international success. Their performance seems like a pathetic, failed attempt to copy international fashions. For the contemporary viewer it provides a comforting view of 1970s Finland, seemingly more naïve than the self-reflexive present.

Comments

Avi Santo's picture

and, of course, Armi and

and, of course, Armi and Danny (and their dancers) seem to evoke a nostalgia for the 1950s (cheerleader outfits, her [is she Armi or Danny?] flowing prep school skirt) combined with the disco craze of the 1970s. Looking back on it through contemporary eyes, nostalgia for a simpler (pre-globalization?) past likely ignores the nostalgic strategies already present in this performance, which suggest Finnish cultural identity was in a state of flux “back then” as much as it is now.

Sari Elfving's picture

What a fascinating piece of

What a fascinating piece of performance! I especially liked the way they combined 70’s style disco movements with common patterns from Finnish circle dance. This video reminds me of American style talk shows they showed on Finnish TV in the 70’s. Watching them now one cannot help but feel embarrassed because of the urge to look so up to date and international. Can it be that part of the fun watching them now is based on this embarrassment - and the need to deny it?

Espen Ytreberg's picture

Yes, the urge to look up to

Yes, the urge to look up to date and international … it is a hallmark of marginal popular cultures such as ours to never, never get that right. There is a double nostalgia involved in looking at clips such as these (although of course I cannot enjoy Finno-Ugric Disco in quite the way the Finns do): We all have first-degree nostalgia over our past symbols of common enjoyment. But countries at the popular-cultural margin such as Norway and Finland, I believe, also have second-degree nostalgia: It was hopeless then as it is now, these are all our failures at being up to date and international, and they are somehow both touching and embarrassing in thir obvious failure. Curiously the re-visitation of such old clips relieves me of some of that sense of failure and brings forward the great, quaint charm of these laboured dance moves and big earnest grins.

I wonder how popular Grease

I wonder how popular Grease was in Finland in the 1970s? The clip looks like it was not only inspired by that other late 70’s nostalgia trip, but quite deliberately modelled on it: the outfits, her doubt over whether his intentions are pure etc… It also looks like an attempt to link Armi and Danny to their perceived international equivalents: the former Miss Finland stands in for fellow crossover star Olivia Newton-John, and Ilkka “Danny” Lipsanen replaces John “Danny Zuko” Travolta.

The flying car at the end of the clip in particular is reminiscent of Grease (see from about 2min 40sec onwards in http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5Mw4eD6EeA), with the only exception being that “the other Danny” doesn’t even pretend to drive responsibly. :-)

It is quite fascinating to look at the cycles of nostalgia - what is it about the 1970s that fascinates so much now, and what was it about the 1950s that inspired the aesthetics of the video in the first place?

I had thought of the Grease

I had thought of the Grease connection as well, which would be another interesting gesture to the global as a way to redefine national culture, but was uncertain of the time line. While the stage play opened in 1971 and made it to London by 1972, the movie doesn’t get released in the US until 1978. When is this song (or the video for it) released?

Mari Pajala's picture

Really interesting points

Really interesting points about the “double nostalgia” at work in this performance and about the Grease connection. The car at the end definitely looks like an allusion to Grease. The English version of this song was released in 1978, and the license plate of Armi & Danny’s car (DA-78!) seems to indicate the clip is from the same year, so it is possible that the Grease reference was intentional, although according to IMDB Grease wasn’t released in Finland until December. Maybe Danny had seen it abroad and wanted to be really up-to-date — he has always taken great pride in bringing international trends to Finnish popular culture (especially in his elaborate 1960s stage shows, which are considered forerunners of the genre in histories of Finnish popular music)…

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