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The Scarlet & Black

France—the best place to learn to country line dance

Going abroad is kind of like learning to line dance: there you are, in your Wrangler jeans, your plaid shirt, your scootin’ boots and topped off—if you’re feeling courageous—with a cowboy hat. You don’t really know what you’re doing, but you’ve glimpsed (okay, you’ve seriously watched) enough CMT Top Country Countdowns flipping through Saturday morning television to have an idea. Then the music starts, it’s a song you’ve heard a few times, you can sing along with most of the words. Suddenly everyone around you starts shuffling and step-ball-changing and turning their partner ‘round and ‘round. You’re caught in the middle, trying to scramble to keep up and get your two left feet to move like everyone else’s. Finally, after a few verses, a few hollers, (a few shots of Jim Beam?), you and your country rhythm are groovin’ pretty good— just in time for the song to end.

The metaphor might seem a little crazy, but from my experience studying in Nantes, France last spring, let me tell you why it’s not. After eight years of studying French in school and having visited Paris with my family, I felt fairly prepped to spend four months there. I’d been to French language immersion summer camp; I had my chic leather boots, my scarves, my least-American-looking clothes; I’d seen “Paris,” “Je T’Aime” and “Amelie.” I had a feeling I could fit in. This feeling lasted up to the minute that I stepped off the train from Paris to Nantes, my new world spinning around me. With some stumbling on my own and the help of a patient host family, I slowly improved, eventually finding my feet under me (even if they were both still kind of left feet). At times, it felt like I was dancing to the world’s longest song. And just as I learning the steps and falling it line, it was time to head home to America.

Ok, now who am I, a happy suburban Midwestern girl, to be making any metaphors about something I’ve never done? That’s exactly what I would have said—that is, until I went to France and actually learned to country line dance. In fact, my host dad, Yves, was a member “Les Country-Western Friends” of Nantes, an association of about 60 people that gathered every Thursday night to dance to American country western songs. He invited me along one night, and the next thing you know, it became our Thursday ritual. I’d put on my Steve Madden cowboy boots and Gap button-down shirt and off we’d go to dance to Dierks Bentley and Alan Jackson. The irony was profound, especially to my 60 newfound adult French friends, who loved to ask, “Did you ever think you’d come to France and learn more about America?” I would usually nod and smile, thinking to myself, “No, I didn’t anticipate going to France to perfect my boxstep and skiff-a-billy to the Dixie Chicks, if that’s what you’re asking.”

I might have made a lot of jokes about it at first, but la danse country really came to hold a special place in my heart over those four months. It was the one night a week that I was totally surrounded by French speakers, many of whom only knew enough English to say, “Oh, I lahhv Kinney Cheznee!” It was also really nice bonding time with my host dad. During our 30-minute commute, we often reflected on my progress speaking French thus far, and I could practice keeping up an extended conversation. It was during one of these car rides that we hatched the plan for me to give a PowerPoint presentation about Chicago, my home city, in front of the whole group (but that is a whole different story … ). Not to mention, I learned that country line dancing is fun! This coming from a girl who 1. does not exactly have smooth moves, and 2. could barely tell you who Kenny Chesney even was until recently. But in the end I was sad to say au revoir to my friends. Their parting words were certainly true: “Ecouter de la Country music rend la vie plus belle”—”Listening to country music makes life more beautiful!”

All of you juniors heading abroad in the coming months (weeks!) are probably getting an earful of questions and advice about culture shock, reverse culture shock, “W”-curves (they’re real) and not forgetting your passport (seriously, don’t). You’re probably getting everyone’s personal stories about the “trip to Paris that just changed their lives,” and it looks like I’m no exception. Nonetheless, I’m sure you will corroborate my crazy extended metaphor when you get home. Until then, I hope it can remind you of two things: first, you have no idea what you’re in for, and that is the best thing about going abroad; and second, wherever you go, never forget to pack your cowboy boots. Now get out there and dance! Grinnell will be here waiting for you to get back, and so will the Harris dance floor.

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    marie lajoieFeb 7, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Going to paris may 3015. We love country dancing where can we go?