1 Aug 2009
Dancing in the streets
France in general receives more foreign tourists than any other country. Throughout the summer in particular, there are events, activities and attractions organised specifically for visitors. However, summer is also a time for all the people to want to spend time outside, and to make use of the warmer days and longer, lighter evenings. Many of the events (animations) are aimed also - or sometimes exclusively – at the locals. Tourists are obviously welcome too.
Some of the recent entertainments in Normandy have included a week of street performances in Vire (sadly, mostly destroyed in 1944, so not much else to go there for), a series of street events in Coutances, regular weekly free concerts in Villedieu-les-Poeles and St Martin de Brehal, and more formal concerts in the abbeys of Lessay, St Sever Calvados and La Lucerne d'Outremer.
In Villedieu, as an example, there is a programme of Tuesday evening events in the main square, ranging from folk dancing, through rock music, to accordion. The rock and pop was a local semi-pro band, four kids and their uncle on drums. They travel with their own fan club, mostly their grannies and mums. And why not. Next week, there are folk dancers from North Ossettia (look it up, its one of the old USSR countries near Ukraine), and a promise of English Morris dancers later.
These town concerts start of with an audience, on seats in some places, or in Villedieu sitting on the steps of the Hotel de Ville (Town Hall), but by the second number a few people start to dance. For the non rock evenings, it is almost always the older people who get up and dance in the street first. It's strange, but every time there is dancing, old people hobble and creak their way to the dance floor, and then take off as if they are on wheels, gliding around without touching the ground. And they all know how to dance properly: it used to be part of the school curriculum, but I don't know if it still is). And they keep it up for hours. And they laugh a lot.
Younger people join in, and the little kids start to run about, sometimes dancing formally with their mothers or fathers, sometimes with each other, more often just running and running. Rarely, but definitely sometimes, even I join in.
These events are advertised in small posters in shop windows, or tied to street furniture, and mentioned in the local papers, but you have to look around to find them. Apart from the events themselves, it is fascinating to see the real French people at play. Not just those whose living involves tourism, but the farmers, the men who work at the abbatoir or the local factory, the wives who make the most of an evening out, the old folk who only come to the market once a week. They all have fun, and even if the accordion is not exactly what you would chose to listen to, you can have fun too.