DO YOU WANNA DANCE?
Words by: ERIK BREDHE | Photography: Sotarn
Whether in small towns, big cities, islands or remote forests, beautiful dance venues with Chinese lanterns and early 20th century hotdog stands can still be found all over Sweden. Even though the crowd is getting older and the enthusiasts fewer, there are still enough of these places around to boast one of the country’s proudest traditions. The “folkpark”.
“Is that Little Joe in the photo?”
“Really? I thought he was dead!”
“Yes he is. But not in the photo.”
It’s Friday night in Blädinge, a small community in southern Sweden. Here, smack down in the middle of a forest, is one of the country’s most iconic dance venues – Tyrolen. All around the park surrounding the venue you can find photos and paintings of music legends that defined an era in Sweden when people came from near and far to places like this to dance. The two women analyzing the picture of 50’s rock ’n roll singer Little Joe proceed to take turns posing next to the huge Elvis Presley painting. Then it’s beer o’clock for the ladies.
Tyrolen is a remnant of Sweden’s “folkpark” tradition that in the early twentieth century meant more than 240 outdoor dance venues around the country. Folkpark means “people’s park” in English and these popular venues were where all the biggest artists, from Frank Sinatra to The Kinks, came to perform. And more importantly, where the locals came to dance. Many Swedes met their future spouse on these wooden dance floors, and to some extent still do. But there are few folkparks remaining today. The moral panic in the 1930’s regarding the folkpark’s negative effects on the youth was part of the reason for a slow, nationwide shutdown of the parks. Fights sometimes broke out between drunken boys. And young loving couples frequented the secluded groves outside the venues. Since birth control wasn’t really available in Sweden until the 60’s, dance venues like Tyrolen were seen as a source of nothing but trouble and unwanted pregnancies
That Tyrolen is still around is quite a miracle. The park closed in the 1970’s, fell into oblivion and was only of interest to urban explorers looking for old, deserted places. But today it’s the opposite of deserted – thanks to the Hector brothers and their friends. “We were only about 19 when we heard about the park being for sale. Sure, it was a bit of an investment but we thought ‘oh what the hell’. So we bought it! We had no idea what we were getting into, we only knew we couldn’t let this place die,” says Jacob Hector.
Annelie Ovesdotter and Bengt Nilsson are catching their breath after dancing in front of the stage. The couple met in another folkpark a few years ago.
“These kinds of places are an oasis for people like us, who like this music and love to dance to it. I wish there were more of them left,” says Annelie.
The couple in their mid-30’s is part of a younger generation of folkpark goers who are ready to dance the night away in the Swedish forests. But will there be any of these classic dance floors left in the future? And for bands playing this traditional dance music – will there be any venues for them to perform? Asking young pop quartet Connys Kapell – who writes dance friendly songs in the spirit of Sven-Ingvars – it would be a tragedy if the folkparks disappeared. But they believe people will always find ways to dance.
“Of course it would be awesome to perform at a folkpark,” says Fredrik Andersson of Connys Kapell.
“But you know, some friends of ours are occupying an old school right now. I want to perform our songs in the dining hall there. Wouldn’t that be cool?”