Ilmatango: Finnish Air Tango to Conquer the World?

air tango finland ilmatango
Finland is becoming internationally renowned as the birthplace of inventive and often plain zany competitions. A relatively new craze gaining popularity is Finnish Air Tango or ilmatango.

So far the most famous of the Finnish offbeat competitions is the Air Guitar World Championships. The event was founded in Oulu in 1996 and has since then become a worldwide phenomenon. The Air Guitar World Championships Network now operates across over 20 countries including the USA, UK, Japan, Australia and Brazil. There’s even an award-winning documentary made about it called Air Guitar Nation.

Other notable Finnish competitions include the Wife Carrying Championships, the Mobile Phone Throwing Championships and the Swamp Soccer Championships. The World Sauna Championships ran from 1999 till 2010, when a Russian competitor died of overheating and the event was cancelled for the foreseeable future.

What next, Air ballroom dancing?

Close. A fairly new entrant to this growing list of quirky competitions is the Finnish Air Tango Championships. The annual event was founded in 2007 and it takes place as a part of Tangomarkkinat, a Finnish tango festival in the Western Finnish town of Seinäjoki.

Having only been to Seinäjoki for the music festival Provinssirock, we decided to check out what the fuss at Tangomarkkinat was all about.

tango finland tangomarkkinat

Tango is hugely popular in Finland. Photo: Kimmo Mäntylä


The roots of Finnish tango go back to the 1930s. In fact, its popularity spread like a wildfire and by the 1940s Finnish tango was firmly established both in the charts as well as on the dance floor. In the 1960s Finland’s tango fever got so infectious that commentators began to compare it to Beatlemania.

Most of the Finnish tango songs are traditionally in the minor key and themes of lost love, longing and tragedy tend to dominate the lyrics (What did you expect, this is Finland).

tango argentina buenos aires

The passion in Argentine tango is more exuberant than in its Finnish incarnation. Photo: Prayitno

The passion in Finnish tango tends to be more insular compared to its Argentinian cousin, but is no less heartfelt. In fact, the Finns are so obsessed with tango that the annual Tangomarkkinat festival draws a huge crowd of over 100,000 pundits eager to throw shapes on the dance floor.

Finnish singers also compete at the festival for the title of Tango Queen or King. A win often propels the singer to instant nationwide fame and some of the most popular Finnish artists have won here including Jari Sillanpää and Arja Koriseva.


For the duration of Tangomarkkinat, the whole town of Seinäjoki transforms into one big tango fiesta as the streets and squares in the centre of town are surrendered for the dancing revellers.

The Finnish Air Tango Championships were held in a large festival tent, situated alongside the main tango street. The event was hosted by a popular Finnish MC called Sami “Simisami” Alasimi. There were no official competitor lists or signing up. Instead, people from the audience were encouraged to take their chances on the dance floor. And quite a few did.

finnish air tango finland

Even tough guys air tango in Finland. Photo: Urban Escapists

The rules for air tango are fairly simple. At the start of the dance the competitor goes to ‘pick up’ an imaginary dance partner with whom they dance. According to the official judging guidelines the dancing is evaluated based on the dancer’s rhythm, expression, passion and joy.

Although the principle is to follow the tango steps of slow, slow, quick, quick, in practice the competitors employed numerous techniques to try and impress the judges. This led to entertaining mayhem as those who can dance came toe to toe with those who were just eager (or drunk enough) to show off.

Seinäjoki today, Buenos Aires tomorrow?

In spite of its huge fan base in Finland, Finnish Tango has never quite made it beyond the country’s borders. Finnish Air Tango on the other hand, just might…

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  • The Air Tango Championships are held annually on the second Saturday in July at the Tangomarkkinat in Seinäjoki.
  • There is no competition fee and anybody can take part.


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