About Us | Bookmark Us     

The Politics of Dancing

What is the key to successful TV programming? In Estonia these days it appears to be having the opportunity to watch the Swedish ambassador in Tallinn or a former foreign minister compete with actresses, models, athletes, and businesspeople in a dancing competition judged by a jury and also by television viewers at home. Every Sunday evening since early October, Estonians have tuned into Kanal 2 to watch "Tantsud Tähtedega" — Dancing with the Stars — in which Estonian celebrities are paired with professional dancers and have their performances evaluated. Stealing an idea from popular reality TV shows like Survivor and American Idol, each week ends with one of the teams being voted off the show, with the others continuing on towards an inevitable season climax and championship.

According to Kanal 2, about 350,000 people in Estonia tuned in to watch the program in its second week, more than a quarter of the country's population. The competitors are interesting. There is Koit Toome, a popular singer who represented Estonia at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1998, who is paired with dancer Kerttu Tänav. Then there is Andrus Värnik, an Estonian javelin thrower, who is competing with Kaisa Oja. Other participants include Peep Vain, a personal effectiveness trainer, paired with dancer Olga Kosmina, and actress Katrin Karisma, dancing with Veiko Ratas.

As I write this piece, Karisma and Ratas were recently eliminated from the program. The four-person jury ranks the performers followed by a period where viewers can call in and vote for who they think should be eliminated. While Karisma and Ratas made it through the first rounds of elimination, they were cut in favor of the other performers.

Last week's elimination of model and agency head Beatrice and her dancing partner Eduard Korotin ended with the duo arguing in 'Naiseleht' that the support for their team was smaller because neither of them are ethnic Estonians. During the ensuing debate that erupted on the Elu24 website about Beatrice's statement, which garnered 274 comments, readers took issue with her dancing capabilities as the reason for her elimination, not her ethnic background.

Dag and Kristiina

Beyond Beatrice and Eduard, two other participants that have captivated the national attention have been from the world of politics: Dag Hartelius, the Swedish ambassador to Estonia, and Kristiina Ojuland, a former foreign minister and a high ranking member of the ruling Reform Party. The two are paired with Kristina Tennokese and Aleksandr Makarov, respectively.
From the begining of "Dancing with the Stars", Ojuland has been the biggest

"star". She served as Estonia's foreign minister through EU and NATO accession from 2002 to 2005, and the opportunity to see a high ranking politician prance around with a sequined suitor has left audience members settling down to "watch Kristiina Ojuland in "Dancing with the Stars"". And what jury really wants to tell a former foreign minister to stop dancing? A model is easy to dismiss. Do you really want to tell an influential politician they can't dance?
Ojuland's dance moves have only been eclipsed surprisingly by Hartelius who was the subject of a two-page article in the most recent issue of "Eesti Ekspress" concerning his participation in the program among other things. A speaker of Estonian, Dag has won points among the public for his ability to blend his diplomatic demeanor with the physical challenges of performing for an Estonian audience.

While the Ekspress interviewer, Argo Ideon, took the time to query Hartelius about pressing issues such as Nord Stream's plan to lay a gas pipeline off the coast of both Estonia and Sweden, the meat of the article was devoted to asking Hartelius questions about "Dancing with the Stars". And when this reporter went looking to nab an interview with Estonia's most famous resident Swede, I was told it might take awhile. Hartelius has apparently been inundated with interview requests linked to his performance. For whatever reason, politics and dancing have proven an appetizing mix.


By Justin Petrone