Oui-Ha! France brings line dancing craze under state control
They turn out in their hundreds in Stetsons and boots as hits such as the Crazy Foot Mambo and the Cowboy Strut echo around their village halls.
They are drawn by a love of American culture - although definitely not American politics - and a passion for line dancing, which enables them to swing but avoid all human contact.
Now country and western has become so big in France that the country's bureaucrats have decided to bring the craze under state control.
The French administration has moved to create an official country dancing diploma as part of a drive to regulate the fad. Authorised instructors who have been on publicly funded training courses will be put in charge of line dancing lessons and balls.
The rules, which come into force next year, come after the rapid spread of country and western in France, where an estimated 100,000 people line dance several times a week. Jean Chauveau, the chairman of the country section of the French Dance Federation, said: “It's growing at a crazy rate. There are thousands of clubs and more are springing up all the time.”
He said the French shunned the square dancing that is popular among country and western fans in the United States because it involved physical contact. “They don't want to take anyone by the hand or anything like that,” he said. But they were passionate about line dancing, where participants follow the steps without touching anyone else. “I think this corresponds to the individualism of our times,” Mr Chauveau said.
Village associations boast dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of members; competitions are flourishing, and a country music festival is expected to draw 150,000 people this summer, he said. “Britain caught the line dancing bug a long time before us, but now we are really going for it,” Mr Chauveau said. “It's complete madness here.”
The majority of enthusiasts in France are women, who leave their husbands and boyfriends in front of the television while they go out for le country. They often spend several evenings a week perfecting steps to the sound of Every Cotton Pickin' Morning, Country Walking or Irish Spirit.
Yannick Bigard, who has been line dancing for four years, told Sud Ouest, her local daily: “I couldn't imagine going without the costume or at least the boots and the hat. I spend my time imagining new choreographies.”
Mr Chauveau said the trend illustrated France's “complicated and ambiguous” relationship with the United States. “We love American magic and the American dream,” he said. “But we hate Americans when we confront the hard reality of their behaviour throughout the world. We go for the cowboy hats but not George Bush.”
In a peculiarly Gallic approach to the phenomenon, French civil servants say line dancing should be submitted to the same rules as sports such as football and rugby. This means imposing training courses for line dancing teachers and a state-approved diploma for anyone who wants to give lessons or run clubs.
Amateur instructors will have to take 200 hours of training under the new rules. Professionals will get 600 hours, including such subjects as line dancing techniques, “the mechanics of the human body” and the English (or at least Texan) language. They will also learn how to teach line dancing to the elderly.
The cost of the courses, about €2,000 (£1,570) for the professionals and €500 for the amateurs, will be largely met by taxpayers. Mr Chauveau said the regulations highlighted the French state's obsessive desire to organise all public activity. “France is the only country in Europe apart from Greece where sport is controlled through the state,” he said. “Line dancing is now considered a sport, so it is being controlled, too.”
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