If I am asked about dance in France, I feel like I have to talk about it on a regional scale. France is a small country, but it is composed of regions that vary a lot from one to another. Each has its own culture, dishes, traditional clothes, architecture, but also its very own dances, music and celebrations. This cultural wealth is a legacy that has been transmitted from one generation to another over centuries.
In my region, Alsace, located at the north east of France, we also have our own dance folklore.
Many cultural events are the occasion to celebrate this culture. You can see on this video an example of Alsacian dance. The dancers wear the traditional costumes. The music is also very typical of Alsace, with a two times rhythm and an accordion.
Participative events are much more popular than those representations. An example are the bals are very important in Alsace. They occur in small village halls with bands playing various type of music, traditional or modern, for people from all ages. During summer we have vines festivals, which consist in many stages with live music on typical villages.
The Carnaval bal is a long awaited and friendly event. It is a fun night dancing with your neighbors dressed up who are sometimes hard to recognize!
In my 2200 inhabitants village, Soultzmatt, there is a cabaret called Paradis des Sources, which mixes the Alsacian folklore, grace and modernity.
This cabaret offers dance perfomance from many types, from all over the world !
This show on the last picture called “Elsass Cancan”, mixes the French-Cancan (that I will present a few paragraphs down) with the Alsatian culture, as you can tell by the Alsatian headdress. It is the perfect illustration of a mix between regional and national, and more generally the cross-cultural aspect of dance.
The Alsatian dance culture is undeniably influenced by our neighbor; Germany. Our traditions are often very similar. Alsatian identity is very particular, not only for geographical reasons, but also because of our history through wars and occupations. This identity is a strong feeling and Alsatian people often say they feel apart from all the other regions of France.
But lets zoom out and look at dance on a national perspective, with what is probably the most popular French dance in people’s mind; The French Cancan. It appeared in Paris’ working class ballroom during the XIX century. It is a high-energy and physically demanding dance, performed by a chorus line of female dancers .The main features of the dance are the lifting and manipulation of the skirts, with high kicking and suggestive body movements. It can be seen as a cliché by some people, but at the time, it was the result of the expression of working class’ freedom and sexual liberty. Nowadays it still has a success we can’t deny and many people agree on the joie de vivre it conveys. Seduced ?…
On a different note;
Ballet dance, which was born during the Italian Renaissance, was made prestigious by French and Russian. Most terms of ballet dance are French words, and the explanation lies in the XVII century history, under Louis XIV reign. Sun King was an avid dancer and the founder of the Académie Royale de Danse in 1661.
Ballet has fascinated more than one. The French painter Edgar Degas did so many paintings, sculptures and sketches of ballet dancers, that it is not exagerating to say that this theme marked his career.
Nowadays, ballet is still a huge part of our dance culture. My twin sister, who took ballet classes, gave me her feelings about this art:
“It is strict, and conservative, but in class, in front of the mirror, I draw my pleasure from succeeding in doing a move. Being able to do it from my fingertips to my toes. Performing a dance routine is an awesome feeling. To me, there is nothing like feeling the music, and letting yourself go. It is synonym of art, beauty and expression.”
More recently, France opened itself to dance from allover the whole world. Country dance is very popular. Many French love to go line dancing! I will go square dancing next week-end, and I am exited to immerse myself into this unknown type of dance!
Among my relatives, I noticed a strong enthusiasm for Afro-dance around 2000.
Zumba fever also reached France. For those who haven’t heard about it, this is a dance which was invented in Colombia, no later than the beginning of this century. Zumba’s choreographies incorporate aerobic elements and Latin dances such as soca, samba, salsa, merengue, reggaeton, but also hip-hop, mambo, swing and kuduro. A great cultural weatlh for a huge success in France. Last year, I took Zumba lessons, at my university, and the dancing hall was crowded!
Asian and North African dances also made their way to France. Once more, it is something I noticed directly among my family and friends. Even in my 2200 inhabitants village! The following picture has been taken at the cabaret of my village.
Dance traditions can be so different from one part to the globe to another. But they evolve, travel, influence each other, mix themselves… Dancing is a universal language. However different dances can be, they have common points: the need to express oneself , seeking beauty. But more simply, seeking happiness, and peace, when we all dance at the same pace. I believe dance has the power to emphasize the cohesion between people from different countries contributing to the universal understanding.