For many years it was very difficult to find a Modern Western Square Dance club in France. The activity did not catch on in France as it did in Germany or the Scandinavian countries. The politique of General De Gaule was to close the American military bases which was the vector of development in the other countries.
I have seen newspaper clippings of « Special Dances » which took place in Paris in the 60’s if I’m not mistaken, and which attracted hundreds of dancers. Some callers who have been around awhile can even talk about these dances.
When I first tried finding a Square Dance club, around 1986, it took me two years before I found one. This was, of course, before the internet was born.
A lucky encounter with someone who was familiar with a group of Square Dancers in a Paris suburb let me discover a small group who learned a handful of dances by heart, to give demonstrations. After dancing with this group for a few weeks, the teachers told me I should come with them on Mondays, in the heart of Paris where they really exercised the activity as it was danced elsewhere in the world.
I then went to Paris and danced with the only existing club in France, « Paris Calling ». Paris Calling consisted of about 2 squares when we had a good night of attendance. About half the members of Paris Calling danced in the other group, which didn’t exist as a club yet, but later became the « Rabbits and Doves ». The Rabbits and Doves danced off records, Paris Calling had Roy Mann as the caller, founder.
So in the 1980s only two clubs were known to exist in France, both situated near Paris.
The third club to be formed was the « Ouest Paris Swingers ». I was living about 30 kilometres to the west of Paris, and I decided to try teaching. The club did not exist « officially ». We had no secretary, or treasurer, or even a president. We just had a teacher and a name. In the second year of courses we also had a logo.
A couple of years after I started teaching, I was contacted by a lady in the south of France who had learned to Square Dance many years ago in America. She was starting her own club in Cagnes-sur-Mer, and contacted me for some guidance. Shortly afterwards the « Funny Fish » were formed.
Very shortly afterward I was contacted by a woman who had formed a « Western Show » club many years earlier, but the club had idled to slumber. She was looking to start the club back up and wanted me to teach Square Dancing. She was not familiar with the Modern style, having worked only « Old Fashion » previously. She was delighted to discover the modern style and so the « American Club 78 » came back to life offering Square Dance and Line Dance.
The American club president moved to the Bourgogne area of France, and the club name moved with the president. The members who remained in the area decided to continue their activity and created the « Lucky Boots »
The « American Club 78 » did not get an easy start in Bourgogne. The efforts to start the activity were not in vain however. Thanks to the work done by Claude and Anita, they sparked the interest in a number of people in the region and two clubs have since started in the Burgundy area.
The « Circling Snails » (North Burgundy) and the « Funny Square 71 » (South Burgundy) .
About the same time these clubs were forming, one of my students decided he wanted to help expand the activity in France as well. He had taken caller courses and founded the « Leaping Frogs » as well as the « Shooting Stars ». He also gave lessons for a Country/Line club near Euro Disney, but the distance was too far to continue on a regular basis.
This year a new club was also formed in Cagnes-sur-Mer, the « Rainbow Diamonds ».
I have recently discovered a lady who is learning Square Dancing simply through the web pages available on the internet. She has created her own choreography, and has a group of dynamic participants. They mostly dance to give demonstrations today, but having exchanged emails with the person, she seems very interested to go further and learn « real calling » and modern choreography. Her group is situated very close to Bordeaux. Hopefully we will have e new club in the area in the next year or so.
I have also worked in organising an event in the « Champagne-Ardenne » area of France. The participants were very enthusiastic to repeat the event. I am hoping we can organise a big « Special » in the area, and motivate the local residents to start a club.
We can then propose a « Square Dance Tour de France », Champagne, Burgundy, Riviera, Bordeaux, Paris… awaiting the expansion to Brittany and the North.
Thomas Mackler opswingers(at)free.fr