by: Tibor Kaldor
Oh, what a city!
I recently had the pleasure to revisit Paris, and the city is as splendid as you can imagine. The hustle and bustle of the people on the street, in the outdoor cafes, and on the metro, lends a vibrancy and variety that is approached in Calgary only during the Stampede.
As I rode the metro, suddenly the sound of an accordion filled the train, playing that familiar French melody, you know the one. I forget the name. Glancing around, there is some young guy by the door, tugging on the instrument, fingering the buttons. Welcome to France!
Also, I went out dancing, naturellement, and my experience was gratifying. They do it all over the world.
The purpose of my sojourn was work, but play is something you mustn't miss here. Fortunately, I was able to minimize work to a few hours per day, and do the tourist thing. You know, the Eiffel Tower (excellence in structural engineering for the 1889 World's Fair), and the Seine River cruise. Did you know that there is a miniature Statue of Liberty in front of one of the pillars on a bridge crossing the river?
In my book, the must-see is the Musee d'Orsay, a railway station converted to a light and delightful museum, displaying wonderful fin-de-siecle impressionist art. Then do the Arc de Triomphe, promenade on the Champs Elysees, followed by a lazy espresso on the terrace, rubbing shoulders with habitues, carrying le cell-phone.
So, I grabbed the Pages Jaunes, and looked up dancing -- voyons, lots of listings. Phone calls revealed that most ballroom studios do not offer soirees dansantes; facility dancing is only for their own students. But I persisted until I found two places which featured social dancing, one on Friday, 19:00 - 22:00, the other Sunday. I jotted notes in my calendar.
Of course, among the sites to see there is de-riguer Louvre Museum, it's Mona Lisa is the Big Mac of gallery divisions. If you can foxtrot through this place in 8 hours, you will have obtained your requisite art big gulp. The department of Culture has done a pleasing job of renovating, including a decent food court, availing decent prices.
The Chateau de Versaille is pleasant, if you remain strictly outdoors, in the refreshing gardens. Modern creativity (sic) is housed in the Centre George Pompidou, and this can be entirely fascinating, the art inside and the buskers outside on the front yard.
Friday evening, I got off the metro at Sevres-Babylone and walked to 20 rue de Varenne, l'Ecole de Danse George & Rosy. The metro is another wonder of the enchanted city; you are never further than 8 waltz measures (500 meters) from a station. (These sidewalk measures must be appropriately spacious.)
Currently managed by Thuy & Roland D'Anna, the studio was founded in 1930, in continuous operation since then. When I sashayed across the doorstep, Roland sat me down and delivered the Paris dance scene report. This studio offers 'toutes les dances de society'. There were, at the moment, only 2 couples there. Cover for the soiree was 70 F francs ($17.50), beverages extra.
Thuy is a charming Vietnamese young woman, whose partnership I tried and loved. More people showed. They did all the usual stuff: tango, cha cha, samba, swing. Ever the supremely conceited North American, I lead the ladies in American style, not International, which is what these continentals do.
They dutifully followed and seemed (pretended?, polite!) to enjoy the experience. The studio was not large, maybe 60 by 80 feet, linoleum covered floor. It was poorly illuminated, and air conditioned only by the somberness, although Paris in June is hot and muggy. By contrast, the people were sympas and friendly. Many were intrigued by a visitor from the Wild West. I especially warmed to the couple who apparently liked my dancing and applauded.
Courses are offered at several levels (1 to 6 degrees), Monday to Saturday. A card for 10 group lessons costs 800 F ($200); a three month group membership is 1,500 F ($375); one year is 4,500 F ($1125). Private lessons of 30 minutes for a single go for 200 F ($50), 300 F ($75) for a couple, they're cheaper if you buy multiple lessons.
Guess what is hot? The Argentine Tango. I watched, impressed, as a number of dancers showed off this sensuous duet. Thuy and Roland maneuvered through a thrilling piece. Wow. Finalement, I had a great time, meeting, talking and dancing with the Parisians.
There are other places to do ballroom in the city, for example, a night club called Club Madeleine, but these are attended by non-ballroom types as well, having more of a night club ambiance.
On another metro ride, I was roused by some tenor aria from a ghetto blaster. I swivelled and saw a sheet stretched between two upright posts on the train. The puppet head of Pavarotti was miming the words, rhythmically jerking and belting to the music. Below the sheet, a pair of blue jeans and Nikes, motionless. What's going on? Gradually I relaxed, gazed about at passenger reactions, smiles. Then it hit me! After the high E finale, I flipped a 10 F coin into the jar as the guy ambled by.
What about food you ask? I confess, I did not scrimp here. I tested a large variety of restaurants, bistros, cafes. Try most entrees, (which in French is an appetizer); for main, count on lamb, fish and rabbit, all are very popular. Keep away from the beef, as you should keep off the grass in Europe. Take no prisoners regarding desserts, demolish all in this area, you should not be disappointed.
What's left? The rive gauche. But do the right thing - dance.