Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Village Ball

When was the last time you've been to a village dance? So many movies of the 50s showed them as part of the local scene -- Carousel comes to mind. But have there been any since the uproar of the 60s? Did they continue in their sleepy, gentle way amidst the turmoil and upset of the Vietnam War peace demonstrations? Did any survive the arrival of disco? Motown and punk rock?

If not in my world of Westchester County in New York, perhaps elsewhere? As I remember it, both my parents knew how to dance: my mother was in the folk dance club at her university, and my father as a good Southern gentleman who'd been to many a debutant's ball could be counted on to do a competent turn at a waltz and even a light fox trot.

But when my parents went out for an evening it was not to dance. Elegantly decked out, with cologne tapped around his throat, perfume spritzed behind her ears, a jacket and tie for him, hair up and occasionally the elegant long skirt for her, they went out to restaurants, concerts, theatre and to gatherings of friends where food, conversation and alcohol were the main events. I never heard tell of a night of dancing.

In our family, there was a tradition of dancing at weddings. However, this was a tradition dominated far more by square dances that encouraged all ages to participate, than elegant waltzes. Yet I have memories of at least one when I, perhaps 5 at the time, took over the dance floor in my favorite pink dress. At some point a parent was inspired to push a little boy of a like age in my direction. At which point, I fled. Though my love of dance was already a confirmed trait, femme fatale, I was not.

And so, here I am dating a man from a village. A man whose roots go back a number of generations, and who is more than a bit enamoured by his village's traditions. I've spoken elsewhere of the club taurine, and the summer bull games, paëllas and carnival fairs (post Fête Votive). Yesterday evening the yearly Bal des Commerçants was on the program. We, a couple who love to dance, couldn't miss this now, could we? Particularly as JP has aspirations to be a local politician. Thus, turned out and rarin' to slide across the dance floor we were there: to see and be seen. A mere 10E a person at the door (all for a good cause) led us into the salle de fêtes decked out with lights, tables surrounding the piste (dance floor), a band specializing in 70's classics with a twist and a selection of locals.

We found a spot to sit and put our coats, got our drinks in plastic cups, and contemplated the scene. Oh yes, we did first do a round of bises to all known folk, of which there were quite a lot. Three kisses for each of his fellow political aspirants in the Socialist circle, three kisses each to the many friends and colleagues he's worked with through the cultural and social centers in town, and the occasional handshake to simple acquaintances known from the market or the local shops.

The watchmaker was tending bar between dances (he was quite fluid and fun to watch). The local documentarian was photographing the event for posterity, when not inviting a friend to waltz. And when the piste was clear of tall dancers, those a meter and shorter happily took over the space, with the occasional parent coming in to keep order.

Somehow we danced the cha cha to The Doors' Come on Baby Light My Fire, followed by a Passa Dobles in simple step rhythm, and a Rock to Serge Gainsberg. Edith Piaf was best danced as a waltz. A European tango was played and I tried to adapt to the slow slow fast fast fast, slow slow fast fast fast rhythm, but was often tripped up by the simple idea that this was supposed to be a tango. To me, it wasn't.

When not dancing I watched. I observed the couples of a certaine age who've clearly been dancing together for at least thirty years. A large tummy and stiff joints were not going to deter them now. Then there were the husbands who love to dance, dancing with the wives who love to dance, none of them with their respective spouses who didn't love to dance on hand. Happily, these re-paired couples seemed delighted with this arrangement.

JP would point out one or another man who'd confided to him his private dancing passion, and consequent frustration that his spouse was not of like mind. They'd thus taken classes on their own and here in this public spot, were lightly and gracefully partnering their neighbors across the floor. What a contrary world. As many a woman can attest, it is far more often be the other way around! Somedays I think I could as easily give up dancing with my partner, as settle for a smoker. Deal-breakers both.

One couple in particular caught my eye. He had a grand mane of fluffed gray, nearly all white hair, an elegant striped black suit, and freshly shined black shoes. She was coiffed rather severely in a variation of a Dorothy Hamill, in a simple but elegant outfit, her face drained of all color with not a spot of make-up to brighten it, and rather clunky black shoes. He, heavy set though he was, moved with grace and joy, swinging her around in a rock, a passa dobles, and a waltz with ease. But clearly, they'd never danced the cha cha together before. He tried teaching her, but suddenly, where heretofore she'd been quite graceful, she became stiff and uncertain. They were a newly formed couple; he the adept and passionate dancer, she his new muse. They made being 60 look like quite a lot of fun.

Yes, the mean age at the ball was definitely 55 and upwards. And yet, when that disco medly came on: Freak Out, Staying Alive and all your favorites, there they were boogieing away. I must say, I was impressed and enchanted. No, I've never seen people of my parents' generation, much less those of my elder cousins dance the night away at a ball. I've had my share of nights in Manhattan clubs and raves in Seattle, square dancing at weddings, but a small village ball open to the public? No, this was a first.

I do hope this tradition doesn't die out here as well. Though I'm afraid, it is highly likely. Other than the little tots on the dance floor, I was nearly the youngest person there.


Cyril said...

How could you dance the cha cha to The Doors' Come on Baby Light My Fire ??!



Madeleine Vedel said...

Cyril, Strangely and with odd thoughts going through my brain. After all, how many others in the room even could understand the lyrics? But I fully agree, it is not exactly how I think of the Doors... but psychedelics were not the order of the day, hence I just went with the rhythm. What can you do when the orchestra decides to rework a classic?

Zuleme said...

come on baby, cha cha cha, come on baby cha cha cha,
cha cha set the night on cha cha!

Madeleine Vedel said...

it's exactly that Zuleme! just don't forget the giggling part.

Airelle said...

oh you're lucky! in the village where I spend my weekends "a village bal" is horrible, too loud disco music in the nearest bistro. and young people, loud too, hanging outside to smoke - or to hear each other speak.
and I'm not that happy with the music the French normally think suitable for a dance, when in family gatherings or associative evenings. your bal seemed very varies indeed in comparison.
hope you had a good time.
(funny, I would have thouht your man more likely to be Green but then the green party isn't a big player in this country).

Madeleine Vedel said...

you're very right Airelle -- he was a green for many many years, but the city of Vauvert is quite traditional, and it is only by working with the Socialist party that he's been able to make some headway. The new project is to block a development on what is a lovely parcel of land above the city... for a host of environmental and intelligent reasons.