In most endeavors preparation is key, and that is particularly true for “dancing up” or medal testing in Swedish Polska. We do a lot of preparation here in the States, with teachers invited from Sweden and with American teachers. But a very special thing to do is attend the Training Camp that Leif and Margareta Virtanen have been operating for 20 years. This is the week just before the Uppdansning weekend, which is always the first full weekend in August. For the past 17 years it has been held at Furudals Bruk. There is a lovely dance floor and hall and places nearby for housing.
Leif and Margareta hold four sessions a day and the schedule is divided between two groups, those doing Märke testing, and those doing Diplom. I have described the Märke testing in previous posts. The Diplom program is for people who have previously earned Big Silver medals. Every year the organizers designate a regional area of Sweden and choose a set of 7 to 10 dances from that region. Participants need to practice all the dances but will perform only four of them for the judges, without knowing which four in advance. They dance in groups of four couples at a time.
At 9 AM at the start of the first session, Margareta leads a warmup set of exercises to a group of three short tunes. We have come to love her moves and those tunes and enjoy warming up together. After the warmup we usually do a mixer, a schottis or polska dance in which we progress to dance with each man in the circle (if you are a woman).
For Märke practice, Margareta develops a schedule ahead of time and calls up couples to perform the dances for teaching purposes. As many as four couples will come up at a time if that many are doing a particular dance, but it can also be a single couple. The couple or couples do the dance, followed by comments and suggestions by Leif and Margareta, then another attempt at the dance. There will be more comments, and the dance may be repeated a third time. Margareta has a table full of CDs and a tremendous knowledge of that music so she can play appropriate music for each dance. She is masterful at varying the tempo and using different examples of music so that by the end of the week you have become more adept at doing the dance to different tunes and at different speeds. Leif and Margareta are also very astute at figuring out what to suggest to each partner to improve the dance. Their criticism is very gentle and positive and helpful.
While a particular dance is being critiqued in a cordoned off area of the dance floor, the other 2/3 of the hall is available for practice. This practice space is always full of couples trying different things. The Diplom dancers often come just to enjoy dancing to the music, especially in the evening sessions. There are tables around the hall where others sit and work on their computers, or knitting, or writing or talking, or just watching the dancers. It is a congenial and happy group of incredibly nice people and a very pleasant way to spend some summer days.
After the final evening session, around 8:30 PM, people go out to the shore of the lake and make a fire and grill food, usually hot dogs. There is talking and singing and laughing. One evening we do a singing game called “fattig man” (poor man). The sun sets about 10:30 PM or so and the twilight lasts a long time after that. Mosquitoes enjoy coming to the bonfires too.