New Yorker newcomer Adam Kline wants Skellefteå to strut its funky stuff. Are you cool to be a fool? Photographs by Donna Richmond
I hand a snow shovel to a woman I barely know, a strait-laced employee at Skellefteå Museum. She hops on the shovel and rides it around the dance floor like a horse. The rest of us cheer wildly. We dance harder. The whole scene is more than a bit foolish and that’s exactly the point. This is the April Fools Dance. For a few hours on Sunday, April 2, Skelleftonians gathered in the museum’s glass entrance and transformed it into a dance hall for small children, grandparents, and everyone in between. It became the kind of space where, without a second thought, you could try on a bird costume, land your first split in 15 years, or even split your pants (as my friend’s wife did). The vibe was loose. The pants, in at least one instance, were not.
Underneath the silliness, though, there’s a serious intention to this party. I moved to Skellefteå from Brooklyn almost three years ago and I’ve been struck by how many fun, creative people there are here. But there’s not much of a ”scene” that brings them together. So I’m trying to help spark one by organizing parties like the April Fools Dance because, as cool as it is for Skellefteå to be famous for batteries, I think it’d be even cooler to be famous for fun.
Did you just do a spit-take with your coffee? I’ll give you a minute to wipe up.
True, Skellefteå, like Norrland in general, isn’t famous for its free-wheeling spirit. This is a land of cold and darkness, where you needed a certain amount of grit to survive in the not-too-distant days before Foodora. It’s famous for hard work and heavy industry. And its people – especially men – are famous for not talking or expressing too much.
We play it cool
But behind an occasionally stone-faced facade, there lies an amazing sense of humor. Humor is universal here in Skellefteå. Everyone you talk to has a twinkle in their eye, a barely concealed bit of mischief. And in my experience, when you make the first move, people are super friendly. I think we should capitalize on these strengths. Especially now, as the town makes its bid to be a leader in the green transition and seeks to attract and retain talent from so many different disciplines, the culture is ripe for innovation. To welcome new people and become, in some ways, a new place requires new ways of doing things. Which brings me back to the April Fools Dance. Like people everywhere who are older than 12, we in Skellefteå spend a lot of energy trying NOT to look foolish. Slip on the ice, pop right back up and brush it off. Nothing to see here. We force a smile while wondering, “Did I just break my wrist?” We play it cool.
Let out our inner fools!
It takes a lot of work to be cool. We have to stay up on the trends, follow the latest TV series, and spend hours memorizing Hooja lyrics. But we all know that sometimes these efforts are counterproductive. Coolness can demand a type of conformity that stands in the way of fully enjoying – or even being – ourselves.
What if April Fools is a perfect opportunity to shake off the shackles of cool? Of course we should keep the tradition of trying to trick each other– jokes are great! But perhaps April Fools can also become a holiday where we let our inner fools out for a few hours of unmitigated enjoyment and celebrate the positive potential of foolishness. That’s the sentiment I tried to capture with the circular motto “Fool is cool. Cool is fool.”
That was the idea of the April Fools Dance, where we freed our inner fools via what the Swedes call “ful dans” (pronounced, roughly, “fool dance”) AKA ugly dancing. We threw ourselves into bizarre movements, playful contortions, and general dance mayhem. I just learned about “ful dans” but I was lucky to see the liberating power of dance early on. I grew up in South Florida in the 90’s, when it was the global epicenter of booty dance, the dance craze that most closely resembles an Animal Planet segment about sex in the wild. There’s lots of pelvic thrusting, gyrating, and grinding. And if you’re a somewhat reserved teenager with limited ankle flexibility and zero sexual experience, booty dance is a living nightmare. Then one day at a friend’s birthday, Brad “Cowboy” Austin tapped me on the shoulder and pointed toward the edge of the dance floor, where I saw 12 arms pumping, 36 legs jumping, and somehow they all belonged to the same guy: Dave Wallach. He was groooooovin’.
Suddenly, everything changed. Seeing this gangly goofball dancing by himself, this explosion of humanity and freedom, it blew open a door in my mind and I haven’t stopped dancing since. Was it cool in a traditional sense? No, but once you get into it, it’s incredibly fun. That’s the possibility I see glimmering in Skellefteå: the possibility to turn coolness on its head. Stockholm is Sweden’s center of cool. But things change.
Of course Stockholm is cool but imagine walking around Stockholm in friluftsbyxor (or as I call them, “Swedish man pants that women wear sometimes, too”). Or what if the incredible penis sculpture in Skellefteå’s town square transplanted to Stockholm? People would die of embarrassment. It could never happen. Skellefteå is different andyou can choose to see it as a strength or a liability. I’m in the strength camp and I hope we lean in. I hope all the fun, creative folks here can come together into some sort of loosely-knit community that makes it ok for all of Skellefteå to be fun and creative and even a bit strange sometimes.
So if someone hands you a snow shovel on the dance floor, I hope you’ll hop on and we can all ride off together into a beautifully foolish sunset. Yee-haw.
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