Well, I finally found a way to meet a lot of beautiful Parisiennes of all ages and sizes all at one time in one spot: Folk dancing. My editor at ExploreDance.com has been on me to add some social dancing to the mix of weird modern dance I've been filing on occasion from Paris, so when I saw the notice for a grand folk ball preceded by lessons to take place May 15, I took my three feet (two of them left) and headed down the rue de Pyrenees from my current digs off the place Edith Piaf to the parc Belleville, a relatively new descending slice of green in one of the most cosmopolitan 'hoods of Paris, intersected by a cascading fountain, and with one of the best views in town of the Eiffel Tower. Piaf is probably crying as loud as the many women whose feet I stepped on but I at least returned with a typical slice of what the Bellevilloise (as the local denizens are called) do to entertain themselves on a Saturday afternoon when the Sun has finally shown up for the first time in what seems like months.
Most of the dances — many from Bretagne, but also with Scottish and Irish dances thrown in — began with a circle, ideally arranged man-woman, man-woman, and so forth. (I say ideally because there being more women than men, women sometimes had to play the male part.) The first we learned involved taking your partner, doing a couple of turns with both of your linked arms held above you, then progressing with one arm around her back and the hand of the other arm holding hers in front of you, all while executing a series of short steps too complicated for me to follow with my three feet while taking notes at the same time, then taking a new partner in front of you as you complete the last turn with the old one. Occasionally I got a ringer who scolded me to stop pietonaying. I had no idea what she meant, but a friend explained to me later by demonstrating very mincing little steps with the feet not going anywhere.
For most of the dances we were accompanied by a fiddler, also the leader of Folk en Seine, a man named Mark who played from the middle of the circle, and who had an annoying tendency to speed up just as I was figuring out how many short steps to take before retracing. When I asked him what region the first dance came from, the bushy grey-haired mustachio'd man who himself looked like a real paysan answered with gusto, "Belleville!"
Another dance involved groupings of four, made up of two couples. A young hip-looking dude in shades, shorts, and jean jacket, his girlfriend in a bright orange and brown dress and sandals, took charge, but despite his repeatedly explaining to me when and how I was supposed to make a diagonal with him, I was not getting it and our foursome finally dissolved in disarray. In another circle dance, I stepped on his girlfriend's bare feet.
Later Mark announced a dance that called for either couples or foursomes. I joined a tentative group of two women and a man. "Do we have anyone here who knows this dance?" a smallish frizzy haired young woman asked, immediately turning to me and saying, "Not you!" At this point I decided to bow out, hiking up from the amphitheatre where we'd all been dancing to have my hot fresh mint thermos tea from the plateau that looks out on the Eiffel, looking down at two Busby - Berkleyish circles which formed for the next dance.
PS For several dances we were also accompanied by a blonde curly-haired man, singing authentic music from Bretagne, although I have some doubt about the authenticity of the lyrics. ("When I was three, I brought all the ladies cut up eel," and the obligatory chant about the wife who sleeps with the baker and just about everyone else in the village.)
Folk en Seine offers courses and ateliers in traditional dances from all over France and neighboring regions, as well as organizing dance parties. Contact: folk.seine.@gmail.com .