Get­ting in the swing in Oc­c­i­tanie

Strictly Come Danc­ing has in­spired thou­sands to take up lessons, and for some, the chance comes with a trip across the Chan­nel. Elise Rana Hop­per at­tends swing dance camp, and also picks other events and ex­pe­ri­ences across France

France - - History Trail -

It is mid­night in the hol­i­day vil­lage of Les Portes du Rous­sil­lon, and the sound of an­other era is drift­ing into the still-balmy air. The salle de spec­ta­cle is not show­ing a tra­di­tional va­ri­ety show, but has been trans­formed into a 1930s ball­room: dap­per gents and el­e­gant gals twirl, slide and spin across the dance floor as a six-piece band blasts out the swing­ing rhythms that will keep them go­ing for sev­eral hours yet, in­tox­i­cated by the mu­sic. By morn­ing, they will be back for more.

This is the Stu­dio Hop Sum­mer Camp, which at­tracts hun­dreds of swing afi­ciona­dos from all over the world to south­ern France to learn, so­cialise, prac­tise and, above all, to dance to­gether. The camp runs for three con­sec­u­tive weeks and fo­cuses each week on a dif­fer­ent swing style: Lindy Hop, Bal­boa and Blues. The camp is the largest of the swing dance events or­gan­ised by in­ter­na­tional teach­ers Anne-hélène and Bernard Cavasa, founders of Toulouse­based dance school Stu­dio Hop.

For more than a decade, the camp was held in ru­ral Gers, but hav­ing out­grown the site, the lo­ca­tion was switched to Le Bar­carès for 2016. This for­mer fish­ing port lies on the stretch of the Oc­c­i­tanie coast­line trans­formed by the state-in­spired ‘Mission Racine’ tourism de­vel­op­ment drive of the 1960s.

Re­sorts like these are not on many Bri­tish trav­ellers’ hit lists, though the end­less sandy beaches and al­most guar­an­teed sun­shine still draw thou­sands of do­mes­tic hol­i­day­mak­ers. There is a retro charm to the en­thu­si­as­tic timetable of or­gan­ised fun (any­one for aqua aer­o­bics, beach vol­ley­ball and the fly­ing trapeze?) and the faux-rus­tic decor of the all-you-can-eat buf­fet restau­rants. And as this is France, the food is fine and the wine free-flow­ing.

For us, how­ever, the sun, sea, sand and bot­tom­less carafes of rosé are merely a pleas­ant dis­trac­tion from our true pur­pose, which is the rare chance to spend an en­tire week in­dulging our pas­sion with fel­low en­thu­si­asts. For, if swing danc­ing is some­thing of a niche in­ter­est, then Bal­boa is the niche within the niche, an el­e­gant close-hold dance with small, shuf­fled steps, spins and slides that orig­i­nated in the crowded dance halls of 1930s South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Beach shack jazz

With four sets of teach­ers from France, Rus­sia, Swe­den and the United States, there are mul­ti­ple streams and classes hap­pen­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously through­out the day in airy, open-sided mar­quees, where shorts and flip-flops are ex­changed for shirts and leather-soled shoes as the stu­dents from as far afield as Aus­tralia, Ja­pan and Rus­sia dili­gently work on new moves. Come l’heure de l’apéro, they will kick off their dance shoes over a beer in the near­est beach shack, while a hand­ful of the res­i­dent mu­si­cians play jazz, with their bare feet in the sand. Although we

come from over the world, we all speak the same lan­guage, con­nect­ing through mu­sic and dance. It’s a won­der­ful bub­ble to be in.

I get talk­ing to Amanda, a wildlife con­ser­va­tion­ist, as we try on 1930s-style shoes and out­fits in one of the pop-up vin­tage shops that take over the mez­za­nine of the main hall. “I got the swing bug af­ter go­ing to the 100 Club in Lon­don,” she tells me. “I’ve al­ways loved danc­ing and tried lots of dif­fer­ent kinds, but I think the two-tone shoes, zoot suits and mu­sic did it. I first heard about this camp through friends – it’s easy-go­ing and ex­cel­lent fun. I have been to sev­eral in­ter­na­tional camps and the sense of com­mu­nity, trust, in­spi­ra­tion and fun is com­mon to them all, and what keeps me com­ing back.”

IT con­sul­tant Chris, who got into danc­ing West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop and Ce­roc, be­gan at­tend­ing UK swing dance camps such as Good­night Sweet­heart and Camp Savoy be­fore tak­ing up Bal­boa – for which the UK scene had less of a rep­u­ta­tion at the time. “The three friends I was learn­ing with sug­gested we all go to the 2005 Frenchie Bal­boa Fes­ti­val in Toulouse, and this kicked me off on a run of French Bal­boa events,” he says, list­ing nu­mer­ous events from Paris to the Riviera. Chris is now an es­tab­lished teacher, and he and dance part­ner Janet also taught their own week­end work­shop in Caen (“I was more the glam­orous as­sis­tant though,” he con­fides, “as my French is très lim­ité!”)

The Stu­dio Hop event and oth­ers like it feel as much like a sum­mer hol­i­day as a dance camp, he says. “Be­ing a week in length means there is less pres­sure to dance ev­ery minute of the day, which used to be the case with week­end events. I’m also more se­lec­tive now as to the classes I at­tend – early-morn­ing ones are def­i­nitely off the menu! A week also al­lows you to get to know other at­ten­dees and to ex­pe­ri­ence won­der­ful scenery and food.”

Evening comes around again and there is no mis­tak­ing who is part of the dance crowd, as glam­orous dancers emerge from their apart­ments, chan­nelling the swing era style that char­ac­terises the scene: hair flow­ers and tea dresses, waist­coats and col­lared shirts. They flow on to the dance­floor as the band strikes up, and there they will stay un­til the mu­sic stops. They may be on hol­i­day but there is no rest for these danc­ing feet – and that’s just how they like it. See page 54 for travel in­for­ma­tion.

LEFT: Danc­ing the night away in the salle de spec­ta­cle dur­ing the sum­mer camp; ABOVE: A Bal­boa les­son in one of the open-sided mar­quees; BE­LOW: A jazz band en­ter­tains guests in a beach shack

ABOVE: Sum­mer camp or­gan­is­ers Anne-hélène and Bernard Cavasa show off a dance move

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.