Tap Dancing in France
After college, I spent a year in France teaching English. My school was the Lycee Jesse de Forest in Avesnes sur Helpe, a small town near the Belgian border. It was a combined middle school, high school, junior college and a technical school that specialized in training students to be chefs. My job was to teach conversation classes and to assist the English teachers with their language and literature classes. Sometimes that meant eating lunch at the school restaurant and testing the students on their English skills. I never minded that task.
That year my brain was busier than it’s ever been, but other than letters home and work-related essays, I didn’t write at all. I didn’t write for myself.
For the first month, all of my energy was focused on basic communication. Gradually, I felt more comfortable living my life in French. I found friends in fellow teachers, I learned the system, I explored my surroundings.
My host family became like my family, but still, I felt a little lost. Disconnected. Then I found out about a local tap dance troupe. I asked my mother to mail my tap shoes and I joined the class at the village hall.
Language doesn’t matter to your feet. I was equally fluent in tap and claquettes. When I put on my tap shoes, I was me in both English and French.
I loved those Wednesday afternoon classes with a friendly group of dancers and a fabulous teacher who is the very definition of joie de vivre. I learned new techniques and even a few of their routines. I was thrilled when they found costumes for me so I could perform with them.
I wish I had kept a journal that year. Almost twenty years later, so many of my memories have faded and my French has gotten a bit rusty. I’ll never forget the friends I made, though, and I’ll never forget being part of the Ecole des Claquettes Americaines.