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The Finns are jamming from their own roots

Petri Kauppinen is a dance instructor and choreographer in the School of Music, Dance and Media at the Oulu University of Applied Science. You are a member of the FolkJam® -team and responsible for developing FolkJam®. How did it all start?

It was around 2005 that we noticed here in our School of Dance that dance in fact was becoming a major player in group exercise classes in Finland and elsewhere in northern Europe. Especially Latin based dances like salsa, samba, merengue etc… had become more and more popular. Gyms, fitness centers, sports and gymnastic associations, dance schools etc. rapidly increased their choices of different types of dance forms in their curriculum. I guess everybody has heard of Zumba or Les Mills classes.

And then you wanted to create something like this, but Finnish?

Exactly! The major question that we then asked ourselves was: How can we create something that is based on our own dance culture? We wanted to put together something that would get its energy and power from our own folk music as well as Scandinavian folk music and world music. We were certain that Finnish dance, as it is so versatile, possessed great possibilities for this kind of action.

We also wanted to find out how we could transfer the great amount of kinesthetic and bodily knowledge that we have here in this institution to create a new kind of dance fitness product. In 2007 we began the groundwork to develop something new called FolkJam.

FolkJam is a fine name for a new dance fitness product, tell us more about that?

FolkJam is a form of group exercise class that is based on Finnish dance. It emphasizes the social aspects of dance, joy of dance and it supports the participants’ connection to their own bodies. We believe our body is clever, and what you need to learn is to listen to its signs and state.

Our five-year plan to make it happen, to develop it from a creative business idea into action was: At the very beginning to establish the values and aesthetics for FolkJam. Next we explored the wide realm of Finnish music and created choreographic material. Then we did a lot of testing and promoting that helped us to recognize functional ideas from weak ideas. And finally we developed the whole architecture or system of how this product will find its way from our school to the providers (gyms, fitness centers) and, in the end, to the client. Of course, last but not least, someone was constantly applying for funding for the project from different sources.

What has been exceptional about the whole process?

From the very beginning FolkJam has been co-produced by dance and media students and professionals who are working in the field. This is a great example for the whole field of art, how to utilize the knowledge and skills that we have and create a fully working product out of it. It has formed part of our School of Dance studies, hopefully encouraging our students to create their own business ideas in the future.

And what is FolkJam now?

It is a registered trademark. So far we’ve trained about a hundred FolkJam instructors, who are conducting classes all over Finland from Helsinki to Sodankylä. Currently classes are provided in 25 towns all around the country. During next fall we will be releasing a new sub-product called SchoolFolkJam, which will offer a ready-made package for school teachers to introduce FolkJam into their physical education classes.

We also have plans to establish FolkJam as a well-known and regular part of dance-based group fitness classes in the near future, first here in Finland and then across Scandinavia.

Dance instructor Petri Kauppinen was interviewed by Joonas Jonkkanen at the school of Music, Dance and Media at the Oulu University of Applied Sciences in May 2012.