The Year I Didn’t Write

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.

at Le Manege in Maubeuge on April 10, 1993

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.


Filed under Dance, tap dance

22 responses to “The Year I Didn’t Write

  1. Seems like a year well spent. Never been a dancer myself but I’ve always admired people who could.

  2. Stacy Magic

    How fun! Look at you; how cute! So fun to see a picture of you as dancer. I wrote a lot in college, but never about my dancing. It was just who I was and so taken for granted. I have a few photos, but wish I had more.

    Nice blog, Shary. I will be back to read more.

    • Thanks!
      I’ve been writing a lot about dance lately, something I never wrote about before. I guess now that it’s harder for me physically, I’m more aware of how much it means to me emotionally.

  3. Love it Shary! I can see you now! Dancing and teaching and living la bonne vie!

  4. Language doesn’t matter to your feet. You have such a way, Shary, of putting creativity into words. I just wish I had more talents…or, if I did (or do) had more time to pursue them. Good for you, for having several creative outlets to keep your energies flowing.

  5. Susan McBeth

    Shary, this is a great story. How wonderful that you found dance as a way to bridge the language gap, and now 20 years later, you’ve found another way to bridge the gap, thru your writing of great memories.

  6. What a beautifully told, poignant story. I knew you liked to tap dance, but didn’t realize just how much. Dance transcends all languages. Thanks for the reminder and your lovely memories.

  7. I second Susan’s comment. And I love how art like dancing, music, singing, and even writing does transcend all language and allows us to express with emotion and movement. Not just words. Would love to see you dance one day!

  8. Shary, what a wonderful experience that must’ve been! Dancing, living abroad, and speaking French! It doesn’t get better than that! 🙂 And while you may not have done much writing then, I’m glad you’re now able to write about your memories and share them with us!

    • It was such a wonderful year. The best part is still having the friends I made while I lived there. We don’t get to see each other often, but we’re still like family.

  9. anita carol smith

    Hi Shary-I enjoyed this so much. Claquettes! Doesn’t it just sound like what it is…Now there’s onomatopoeia!
    The heart of the piece to me was the part about your feet being feet in either French or English, and I also liked the structure in that you so smoothly led up to arriving at the conclusion that the dance class was the place you felt most “a part” of the local world.

  10. What a fun experience. My son spent 6 months in Belgium studying, at least we thought he was studying and now he wants to go back to Europe to teach, how did you find that opportunity. Btw, thank for visiting and signing up for my blog.

    • I love Belgium! The largest city near my school was Brussels.

      It’s awful to admit, but I can’t remember exactly how I got the job in France. I was studying French at the University of Houston (20 years ago – yikes!) and I think my professors gave me the application. My official title was Assistante d’Anglais and I was employed by the French education system, l’Education Nationale. I found this link online and it may have the information you need for your son.

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