A weekend of swing in French France
For pun fans, it doesnít get any better (or worse) than a title like that. Having only attended two overseas dance events (Canít Top The Lindy Hop and Catalina 1997) this seemed like a good opportunity to attend one of the lower-profile events that happen almost every weekend somewhere around the world. This was organised by 144 Dance Avenue, held in their own studio on Rue de la Providence in Toulouse and featured classes by Rob Van Haaren and Diane Thomas.
Deciding not to opt for the all-day drive south from London, it was a British Airways flight in the mid-afternoon from the North Terminal at Gatwick. The flight is about an hour and a half, and was shorter than the train journey from British West Hampstead to Gatwick on Thameslink. The plane was carrying the livery of ĎAir Toulouseí, of whom I had not heard, and sounded only mildly more reassuring than had it been called ĎNothing Toulouseí. But there were no problems, apart from a genuinely scary inflight meal, and we landed safely just before 6pm local time.
I love France. Itís just so...French. Itís got French people, French food and especially the French language. As comedian Steve Martin pointed out: "Those French! Theyíve got a different word for everything!" You just sound more sophisticated, even when asking for directions to the bathroom, if you say it in French. We were staying at the Comfort Inn on Boulevard de la Gare, and the best way there was to take the Aeroport bus which stops at the station (la gare) and then turn left for a brisk 15 minute walk along the road (boulevard) to the hotel (hŰtel).
Itís worth mentioning the directions, because 144 did not supply any details on how to get there, where their studio was located or even when the evening events started - it was left to us to find out. The hotel receptionist supplied a photocopied map which became our Holy Grail for the weekend, finally disintegrating under the mass of highlighter marks and scrawled routes to the attractions of the city.
Turning up at 8.30pm on Friday for the evening dance, we were met with surprised looks. "Oh no, the dance doesnít start until 10.30pm!" we were told, about the time some people would be thinking of going home from a dance in London! Anyway, we walked into town for an excellent meal at La Cappaccio, sitting outside under a roaring gas heater to ward off the cold.
We returned at around 11pm, expecting the dance to be in full swing - and it hadnít even started! Not, that is, until the sound of The Jive Aces floated from the speakers, playing the lovely "Blue Moon/My Baby Just Cares For Me" medley from the "Bolt From The Blue" CD. Then the floor started to fill and the evening really got going. The standard of social dancing was really good, and the locals who had come along for the evening were friendly.
My partner had several dances with an unfeasibly-quiffed rock Ďní roller from out of town, while I found that even if you donít know the language, a decent lead wonít let you down. By 2am, the wonderful wooden sprung dancefloor was still going strong, which was more than could be said of my feet, and I retired for the evening.
Rob and Diane. What can you say? They worked like Trojans the whole weekend. (US readers: that means they worked like inhabitants of the ancient city of Troy as mentioned in Homers Iliad, not that they acted as contraceptives, as so graphically detailed by Prince in his hit "Little Red Corvette". Mind you, as no-one became pregnant during their classes, it would be possible to put both interpretations on the word. However, I digress). Starting at 9am on Saturday and an hour later on Sunday, they taught three levels of Lindy Hop, plus Balboa, until 6.30pm with an hour and a half for lunch.
We did the level 2 and 3 classes. Each level consisted of three 90 minute classes which followed on from the previous one (except the first one of course, which was the start). The classes were a good mix of the familiar (Jig Walks, Charlestons, Lindy Turns) and RvH specialty moves including the spin, tuck under and slide back. This looks brilliant when Rob does it. My attempt resembled a mime artist trying to extract himself from an undersized pullover.
The Saturday night dance had a live band and cabaret. This time we were ready for them. We arrived just after 11pm; it was packed. I was told that a large contingent of local rock Ďní rollers were in, and they stood at the side of the dance floor waiting for some post Ď55 music. The floor was incredibly crowded, but spaces could be found, usually near the mirrored wall for some reason. Rob and Diane performed their Shag/Balboa/Lindy routine, complete with Robís splits and Dianeís Charleston moves.
On one occasion there was a slightly worried glance exchanged, but as their mistakes look better than most peoplesí intentions, it didnít affect the enjoyment of the show. The band, Banana Jazz, played some good swing numbers, but some tunes missed the punch that can only come when they are performed by a big orchestra. Once again, we left in the early hours, although the event itself carried on past 6am on the Sunday morning.
Sunday afternoon was spent walking around the city. If you go, be sure to leave some time to do this, because it is a delightful place, with museums, art galleries, markets and a theatre in a wonderfully-designed building. The Musee des Augustins contains some astounding paintings and sculptures, beautifully housed in an old monastry.
A visit to any of these institutions is more than enough reason to retire to a roadside cafe, grab a coffee and watch the world go by. You can also marvel at the traffic, which mainly consists of Renaults, Peugeots and Citreons, with the occasional BMW, and their chorusing horns making a symphony of which Jacques Tati would be proud. Be utterly astounded at the places and positions that drivers find to park their cars, and try to make sure that youíre not standing in one of them!
The cost of doing two levels worked out at around £95, which included the two evening dances. For the whole weekend (event, accommodation, flights, food) we ended up spending around £400 each. The next event planned is on the weekend of 20/21 March 1999 and will feature Steve Mitchell and Julie Oram. If you are interested, then you can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
” 1998 Andrew Winton
If you are considering going, here are some details which you may find helpful:
Travel (from London):
Outward flights from Heathrow (Air France) and Gatwick (British Airways)
Gatwick: Flight time around 85 minutes, departs North Terminal, three flights a day
Nearest hotel to 144Danceavenue is Comfort Inn 5-7 Boulevard de la Gare. You can use the UK booking service on 0800 444444 or call the hotel direct on 00 33 56 1 341171
Take the Aeroport shuttle bus to the station (Gare Matabiau). This costs 25 francs.
Turn left and follow the road (Boulevard de la Gare) for about 15 minutes.
Turn left out of the hotel and take the first left (Avenue Camille Pujol).
Walk up the hill for about 10 minutes.
The road forks; take the left fork and then next left (Rue de la Providence).
Dance studio is 50 yards on left hand side.
The evening dances start late (around 11pm) and finish around breakfast!
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