January in Äkäslompolo is, perhaps unexpectedly, the time to dance away those winter blues!
It’s probably pretty unexpected to hear, but each year at the end of the month the sound of saxophones, trumpets, guitars, accordions and laughter warm up the frozen landscape as music and dance enthusiasts from all over Finland wake up and shake up the sleepy village. The Ylläs Jazz Blues Festival is an annual event organised and run by local businesses and volunteers, and attended by a myriad of spectators and participants, this year, myself included!
The first dance takes place in the charming Akas Hotel, one of the main hotels in the village and a centre point of the festival. Renowned for it’s dancing culture, the hotel has hosted dance evenings for as long as the locals can remember; it is one of the first buildings of the village after all! You’ll find authentic photographs and paintings showing dancing, and fashion, through the hotel’s years decorating it’s walls, and the same vibe on it’s dance floors throughout peak seasons. The hotel also boasts the only nightclub in the village, and obviously it’s the after party spot. Throughout the 2016 festival, there were six performances in the hotel ranging from ‘sit down, listen and appreciate’ gigs to ‘dancing the night away’ styled evenings.
In my opinion, these big band evenings, held at both the Akas and Kaltio Hotels, are the best things about the festival. With the sheer size of the audience combined with the buzz of live music and lots of drinks, you’re guaranteed to have a fantastic evening. The artists themselves are passionate yet precise in their performance, which means you do quickly find yourself taking to the dance floor.
Now, if you’ve never been to a Finnish Dance before then there are a few little cultural differences you should be aware of before you even set foot in the building:
1) If you are female (and not obviously coupled up already) you will be asked to dance
2) It is extremely rude to refuse a dance (and why would you? Dancing is always fun!)
3) If you are a complete beginner, fear not, the men will lead the dance so it’s just a case of following. If you’re male then there may be a certain element of ‘winging it’ here…
4) It is expected that you will dance two songs with your partner – so practice your Finnish for the entailing conversation
5) Be prepared to feel like a princess as your dancing partner bows, takes your hand, then walks you back to your friends and politely thanks you for the dance
There is more to the weekend than being swept off your feet – though of course there’s never anything wrong with that! And there are several smaller events dotted throughout the week which are a little different, but equally amazing – think more ‘traditional Lapland’ mixed in with the jazz and blues. A perfect example of this can be found at the gigs in Velhon Kota; traditionally a popular stop for cross country skiers to take off their shoes, relax, and cook some sausages. Throughout the festival, expect to find the cosy retreat brought to life by acoustic melodies bouncing around the weathered, wooden walls as talented musicians take to the small stage before you. You’ll notice that the candlelit and intimate atmosphere is the perfect accompaniment for a winters day, and a large glass of red wine.
There are around 30 official events which take place during the festival, each with their own distinctions. It’s a full timetable and therefore a difficult to shortlist to make, but to get a taste of everything on offer, like most things, follow the food: a bluesy brunch, late afternoon coffees at the Chapel, a-la-carte dinner dining overlooking ballroom dancing… then down to the nightclub to dance the night (and carbs) away!
Hopefully I’ll see you this year!
Blog by Adrian Holloway-Wells, Inghams Resort Representative in Ylläs.