It's no shocker that every time I'm in Paris, I (re)discover an abundance of artistic and cultural activities that are just part of the Parisian lifestyle.
Two things have been stand-outs so far. The first is an African dance class, which blew my mind.
I went with a dear friend, who I will refer to as "F", and she goes to this class regularly.
It's appropriately held in a building which is entirely dedicated to dance, movement, capoeira, yoga, etc. There's a central courtyard where people sit and talk, or eat food from the health-conscious cafe, and the building stands 4 stories all around you. It's cobblestone in the courtyard, and vines and ivy growing along the building walls. It feels like it's been here for a long time, and is more of a dance academy - this is serious business.
At least 7 classes are going on at once - Flamenco, Tango, maybe another Flamenco, some Yoga, and other stuff I couldn't see but could hear. We walk up 2 or 3 flights of stairs and into the appropriate room. It's humid, smells of exercise, and has well-worn wood floors that have seen years of blood sweat and tears.
No shoes are allowed, and everyone piles their sweaters, water bottles, and other items against the far wall. 3 African men enter and set up their musical instruments: one has a wooden xylophone which is clearly hand made, another has 2 round hand drums sitting on their sides on top of one another, and the third has a stand-up conga drum. He sits in the middle, and is clearly the leader of the group. He's also missing one of his nostrils, which I find fascinating and distracting.
The actual leader of the class enters - she's a fit early 40 something lady, with brown wavy hair, light olive skin, thin black cotton yoga pants, and a big smile on her face. She reminds me of a slightly shorter Catherine Keener. Who loves to dance.
Catherine gets everyone to find space, which is significantly difficult with the number of people present. It's not a huge room, and you only have a few feet in any direction before you're on top of someone else. Most of the class are girls of varying ages, and there are a couple young boys and 2 other men - one could be Richard Simmons' brother, the other looks like an English professor.
We start with warm ups, and the musicians play an appropriate beat. It's all improvised, but works organically and seamlessly. It's beautiful.
By the time the class is in full swing, there's chanting, hair flying all over the place, and an incredible, soul-shaking drum beat. Catherine introduces a new series of movements and the class duplicates. It's difficult at times, but everyone is free to express themselves as they please. It's like a physical form of emotional therapy. All those times you wish you could "dance like no one is watching" and shake like a fool - there's a class for that.
I loved seeing Catherine and her interaction with the leader of the drummers. The guy without the nostril.
She would lean in and give him high fives on the beat, as they, and the class calls out melodic chants of African origin. It was truly a spiritual expression. And they had such great mutual respect and love for each other.
The class lasts an hour and a half, and by the time it's finished, everyone is thoroughly soaked in sweat, their souls purified, and their bare feet worn. I have a huge grin on my face, and I still can't believe I went to an African dance class, in this incredible Academy, in the middle of Paris. And how cool that these drummers have found a forum in which to utilize their talents and make a living.
It just goes to show you, no matter what you love to do, if you follow your bliss, you can make a living doing it.
If a one-nostril African drummer can be the beating heart of an awe-inspiring dance class in Paris, there's nothing you can't do.
But this is one of those awesome activities and resources you wouldn't know is there, unless someone shows it to you. And you would never think to participate unless a friend encourages you. So thank you F - you exposed me to something fabulous and inspiring, and unique, and I'll dance next to you any day.