The phone rang, I picked it up and a disembodied voice told me "Your flight for today has been canceled; we'll be in touch to let you know when it is re-scheduled." After a year of eager anticipation we were just about to head to the airport for our flight to France via the UK, where I was due to teach a weekend workshop. So began our four days of worry and anxiety as the Icelandic volcanic ash plume strengthened its hold over UK airspace. Each day the phone call was repeated until finally I contacted the event organizers to let them know that it seemed highly unlikely that I would be able to make it for the event. Fred Buckley was to teach with me and his direct flight to France had also been cancelled.
But let's go back to the summer of 2009 when Fred and I were asked if we would be willing to go to France to teach. It was thanks to dancer Rita Furgiuele who, while spending a year in Quimper, Brittany, had discovered line dancing. Her French line dance instructor, Brigitte Le Brun, came and danced with her in Toronto and went back determined to bring Fred & me over to teach. She and her co-instructor Corinne Volant (Santiags West Dancers) got together with the instructors from two other Associations, Eric Le Cardonnel (Country Rock Dancers) and Isabelle Burel (Dynamite Country), and began work on their first-ever workshop. A number of conference calls later, a date was set for April 24/25 2010 and plane tickets were purchased. The organizers found a hall in Edern and started publicizing the event. Registrations started coming in while emails went back and forth regarding the dance schedule, accommodation and so on. A new very happy wrinkle was introduced ….. a dear line dance friend, Gill Cossins, from the UK who had moved to France a number of years ago, coincidentally lived not too far from Quimper and was now instructing. It was decided that we would extend our time in France by staying with Gill and teaching a mini-workshop at her club. Four Canadian line dancers reckoned they were coming with us and it was becoming an adventure.
So, as you can imagine, there was serious concern in France as well as worry in Canada when it appeared that neither Fred nor I would be able to go.
However, late Tuesday evening news releases on the internet announced that out of the blue the UK airports were to open the following day. Although we were told that the airline would be unable to fly us to the UK until the beginning of May, my husband Michael and I grabbed our suitcases and headed out to the airport. We arrived very early in the morning to find 30 people already ahead of us hoping to travel standby. Two men had travelled from China to Toronto hoping to find a back-door into the UK. Others had been waiting for days trying to return home and the atmosphere was tense. No luck with the morning flight, there were only two standby seats available. But we heard that there was a weekly flight operated by the same airline leaving later that afternoon so we decided to wait. We were very lucky, a friendly airline employee admired our patience and snuck us on the flight – please don't tell anyone!
Straight off the plane to my parents' house in Essex, a quick shower and change and off to Stansted where our luck persisted and we caught the first Ryanair plane over the channel to Dinard since the cancellations, where Gill picked us up.
What relief when we met up with the organizers on the Friday evening. Beams all around! So now I can happily tell you about the workshop. It was held in a huge gymnasium with a floating wooden floor and large stage. Lots of thought had gone into the decoration and the Canadian flag held pride of place. There were three 2 hour instruction sessions on the Saturday, the first for Intermediate dancers; a large number of instructors attended this session and they seemed happy with 'My Heart Won't Let Go', 'Cool' and 'Fool In Me'. Second up was a Beginner/Intermediate session with a dance Fred and I wrote specifically for the workshop 'Love In One Shot', followed by 'Do That Again?' and 'Small Stuff'. The last session was devoted to beginners, some of whom had never line danced before. This was the biggest class of the day. There was a good response to 'Let's Chill', as well as 'Blue Cha', 'Clap Your Hands' and 'Country Hitch'.
I had been rather nervous about the teaching as my French is appalling and Fred had not been able to make it over so the dancers were stuck with just me! I had mastered the French for "half turn", "quarter turn", "left", "right", but that was about it. There were lots of grins though so I'm not exactly sure what I was really telling the dancers to do!!! Michael did reckon that "plus fast" rather puzzled the dancers! Nevertheless I've decided line dancing has its own universal language because I had no trouble communicating if only by pointing in the right direction!
The Ball that evening was packed with dancers in their full finery of club shirts, sparkling belt buckles, hats, bolo ties and boots. Some great dancin' and high kickin' that would have impressed the Rockettes! The DJ was the lively Eric. He did an excellent job the whole weekend and particularly at both evening balls ensuring that all levels of dancers had the opportunity to dance and also calling out floor splits. A dance list was posted for the Balls so you knew what was coming up. There was a mix of ages and many more men on the dance floor than I have seen elsewhere.
Whereas the focus on the Saturday had been dances to country music, the Sunday morning session was non-country. When it was thought that neither Fred nor I would be able to make it, the organizers had engaged Marie Helene Moreau from Brest to teach on the Sunday. Every couple of months she travels to Quimper to teach some of the hottest dances to non-country music to an enthusiastic group of dancers. Such a delightful person and talented, stylish dancer, it was a pleasure to take a class from her. She taught 'The Heartbreaker' and 'Playing With Fire'. I took over to teach 'Latin Crazy'; they must have enjoyed it as it was requested four times!! Marie Helene and her husband Antony also taught a couples session on the Sunday afternoon.
At Sunday lunchtime, with an air of mystery I was told that the organizers had a surprise for me. In came a group of Breton musicians (Bagad de Briec) followed by the Mayor of Edern and the Queen of Cornwall, then a group of Breton dancers (Gwen Ha Du). They arrived in the full splendour of traditional hand-made costumes. The dancing was fairly slow and stately but at one point involved energetic leaps and dips. Fortunately I was invited to participate in the slow dance only! It was a delightful interlude and it was obvious that all who participated were very proud of their Breton culture and traditions. I should add that each day the lunch included wine, beer and the famous Breton cider, together with snacks and tasty home-made desserts.
What an experience, it was a wonderful workshop. It was hard to imagine that the dedicated and tireless group of organizers had never put anything like this together before, it ran so smoothly and efficiently. Yet despite the amount of work involved running the workshop, Brigitte, Corinne, Isabelle, and Eric seemed to have as much fun as their dancers; they were invariably on the floor dancing with everyone else. The enthusiasm displayed by the dancers was heart warming, they took as much pleasure in the easier dances as the more challenging. Lots of laughter and good humour on the dance floor as well. In addition, of course, willing volunteers are essential for any event and these volunteers included friends and family members, all of whom seemed to enjoy being part of the event even if they didn't line dance. As an aside, I was told that Sunday is 'family' day in France and if there is a dance event on that day family members also attend to be part of it as a social occasion.
When it was time to leave I was sad to leave my new friends but most definitely hope to meet them on a dance floor again in the future and I have precious memories to take back to Canada with me. However my adventure was not yet over. Two of the Canadian dancers, Pete and Claudette, had managed to fly over to France despite the ash plume. They thoroughly enjoyed the workshop ("Best I've ever been to", I was told) and they, together with Michael and I, headed off to Gill's farmhouse. We had perfect weather and the French countryside was in full bloom. But, of course, line dancers need to dance and come Monday evening we were heading off to the 'Country Music Treveene' Association. A full house greeted us. There were beginners who had only danced a few weeks up to experienced dancers. It does an instructor's heart good to look around and see so many smiling faces; they were a pleasure to teach. I started with 'Let's Chill', then 'Blue Cha', 'Country Hitch' and 'Cool'. Again, a nice break with wine, beer and cider! Sounds like a good tradition to start back in Canada!! I was presented with a lovely gift by their charming Association President, Loic. I gather that many Line Dance clubs in France are run by a Committee of President, Vice President, Treasurer, Vice Treasurer, Secretary & Vice Secretary. This Committee does all the organizational work leaving the instructor free to concentrate on the teaching. It's an interesting way to run a Line Dance Club and I think it has a lot of merits. Might be worth a discussion at some point!
Gill and her co-instructor Cyndi Corney took over teaching at the Association just last Fall and their class is thriving. These two are so much fun; I think you laugh as much as you dance!! They are terrific instructors and their dancers obviously think the world of them.
So, if you are thinking of taking a holiday in France, most definitely include some line dancing on your schedule. It is incredibly popular and there are Line Dance Associations in even the tiniest village. The enthusiasm of the dancers is contagious and it's an infection any line dancer would be happy to catch!
PS Thanks so very much to Rita for her initiative, support, and commitment to bringing our adventure to fruition (plus translation duties, of course!); to Brigitte for her very kind hospitality; to Brigitte, Corinne, Isabelle and Eric for all the work and effort involved in the organizing and running the workshop; for giving me the wonderful opportunity to dance with them in France and for the warmth of their welcome and their gifts which I will treasure. Also to all the French dancers for their enthusiasm and patience. Many, many thanks to Gill for being the best of friends, for her generosity and delicious meals and to both Gill and Cyndi for keeping us laughing our whole visit!