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  • Writer's pictureKate Woodman

De danse et de musique dans la rue: c'est Paris! (Dance and music in the street: that's Paris)

Updated: Feb 16, 2020


Le samedi après-midi, j’ai voulu entendre la musique, donc je suis allée à l’église Saint-Louis-en-l’Íle pour assister un concert des concertos pour flutes et hautbois. Mais quand je suis arrivée à l’église, il n’y avait personne. Un panneau a dit que le concert était annulé à cause des manifestations (les gilets jaunes). J’étais surprise, parce qu’il n’y avait aucunes manifestations prés de l’église. Un jeune homme jouait l’orgue, donc j’y ai resté d’écouter la musique et regarder la belle église.

Saturday afternoon I was in the mood to hear some music, so I walked over to the church on the Ile Saint Louis for a concert of flute and oboe concertos. However, when I arrived at the church, it was practically empty, save for a few tourists. A sign said that the concert had been canceled because of the demonstrations. Curious, as the demonstrations (yellow vests who have been demonstrating for the past 13 Saturdays) were nowhere near the Ile Saint Louis. A young man was practicing a delightful tune on the organ so I was treated to a mini-concert, as I strolled around the church.

L'église Saint-Louis-en-l'Île

Il faisait très beau ce jour-là et il me plaisait de faire une promenade. J’ai traversé la pont de l’Íle Saint Louis à la rive gauche. Je n’avais pas un destination…j’ai flané et bientôt je m’ai trouvé dans la place de la Contrescarpe au quartier Latin.

As it was a beautiful day, at least beautiful for Paris in February, which is to say that the sun was shining, I was delighted to be able to take a walk. I crossed the bridge to the left bank and wandered until I found myself in a square that I love…place de la Contrescarpe. I first visited this square a year ago at Christmas with Patrick and sister Carol. Tiny white lights were strung in the trees and it was truly magical. No lights yesterday, but plenty of people in the cafés that line the square and sitting around the fountain.

Place de la Contrescarpe in December 2017

J’ai entendu le son des tambours. Comme le nouvel an Chinois est célébré maintenant, je pensais que peut-être il y avait un défilé. J’ai suivi le son des tambours et bientôt j’ai vu une foule dans la rue Mouffetard. Ce n’était pas un défilé, mais une danse du lion. La foule n’était pas grande, donc j’avais la chance d’être en avant avec une bonne vue.

I started walking up rue Mouffetard when I heard the sound of drums. As it’s the week of the Chinese new year celebration, I thought it might be a parade. I followed the sound of the drums as well as the crowd and discovered not a parade, but a Lion Dance that was about to begin. I’d seen the Lion Dance before, last year when one was performed in front of a shop on my street and Friday night when I caught the tail-end of one being performed in front of my local town hall. But I’d never seen the entire dance and was delighted to see one from beginning to end....and I had a front-row seat!

Lion dancers waiting for the dance to begin

Suiting up.....

The lion head is very large and elaborate with many working parts....mouth and eyelids open and shut....eyeballs pop in and out...and of course there is much moving of the head up and down and from side to side...all very expressive!

La danse du lion est une danse traditionnelle de la culture chinoise et d'autres pays asiatiques où des danseurs, revêtus d'un costume de lion, imitent les mouvements de l'animal. Elle est exécutée le plus souvent pour le Nouvel An chinois et pour d'autres festivités religieuses ou culturelles chinoises. Cette danse est censée apporter la chance. Durant le Nouvel an chinois, des troupes de danse du lion visitent souvent les maisons et les boutiques de la communauté chinoise pour la coutume traditionnelle du « cai qing » (littéralement « cueillir les verts »), durant laquelle le lion attrape des légumes verts ou des salades, censés porter chance, qui sont soit accrochés à une perche, soit placés sur une table devant la porte. Les « verts » sont liés par une « enveloppe rouge » contenant de l'argent, et peuvent aussi contenir des fruits de bon augure, comme des oranges. Le lion danse et s'approche de la verdure et de l'enveloppe rouge comme un chat curieux ; il « mange le vert » et le recrache, mais garde l'enveloppe, qui est la récompense de la troupe. La danse est censée apportée chance au commerce.

A bit about the Lion Dance (from Wikipedia). It’s an ancient form of traditional dance in China and other Asian countries, in which performers in colorful lion costumes mimic a lion’s movements. It’s performed most often for Chinese new year and other Chinese religious and cultural occasions. It brings good luck and fortune. During the new year celebrations, dance troups often visit homes and shops in the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of “cai ging” which means “plucking the greens.” The lion “plucks” the greens (usually a head of lettuce) which is tied to a pole or placed on a table in front of the home or shop. The greens are tied together with a red envelope containing money and may also include other fruits…Saturday’s head of lettuce was paired with a bunch of scallions (no idea why). The lion approaches the greens like a curious cat and eventually “eats” them. He “spits” the greens out (a form of blessing of the shop) but keeps the red envelope which is the reward/compensation for the dance troup. The regurgitation of the greens (only the best parts of the greens are regurgitated) brings good luck to the proprietor of the shop.

The "greens"

Red lion eyes the greens....

....but blue lion gets them!

Regurgitating the greens

There were 5 lions in the dance I saw. Each lion is made up of two performers….one in the head and the other of course the tail. All performers I’ve seen are young men. Seeing the dance up close made me appreciate the strength and ability required to perform it. The fundamental moves are based on martial arts, but my very basic understanding is that the dance has become more acrobatic and artistic over time. The performer in the tail has to be particularly strong as frequently he supports the performer in the head on his shoulders. When the lion rears up full height, the performer in the head is standing on the shoulders of the performer in the tail, at the same time opening and closing the lion’s mouth or batting its eyes, shaking its head and so forth. Quite a demonstration of strength, balance and stamina….the dance I saw lasted about 30 minutes.

Blue lion demonstrating his "moves"

Red lion at full height...."head" dancer standing on shoulders of "tail" dancer

Musicians....cymbols and gong....also drum

Inside the shop....apparently, if the owner sticks his head in the mouth of one of the lions, his shop will be blessed with extra luck...

Resting red lion entertains the crowd with his beard

Interesting factoid I found while conducting my lion dance research:

“As the lion dance symbolises a centuries-old tradition, here are a few things to remember:

● Never touch a Chinese lion costume by its tail as your luck will hit rock bottom.

● Do not jump over a lion costume as it is disrespectful to pass above it.

● Do not touch the lion’s horns and mirror decorations as they are used to ward off evil spirits.

● Avoid feeding the lion anything white as it symbolises death.”

Rue Mouffetard

Après regarder la danse, j’ai fait une promenade dans le quartier. Je suis rentrée, quand encore j’ai entendu quelque choses….cette fois, la musique d’une fanfare. J’ai suivi le son. C’était dans la place de la Contrescarpe, ou j’ai trouvé une fanfare de quinze musiciens et musciennes. Ils jouaient la musique animée et amusante et elle m’a plaît beaucoup.

The lion dance over, I continued my walk up the rue Mouffetard, eventually reaching the Pantheon. On my way home, I again heard something, this time it was the sound of brass instruments. I followed the sound and wound up back in the place de la Contrescarpe, where to my delight a brass band was entertaining a crowd of all ages with lively music.

The Saints Peres' Band

The perhaps not-so-attentive audience

C’était The Saints Peres’ Band, qui a été créé en 1991 par des étudiants de l’école nationale des Ponts et Chaussées de Paris (une des Grandes Écoles les plus vielles et les plus prestigeuses) , basé rue des Saints-Péres. Aujourd’hui, les membres de la fanfare sont des musiciennes et des musiciens issus des Ponts et d’ailleurs.

It was The Saints Peres’ Band, a group created in 1991 by the students at the national School of Bridges and Streets in Paris. Nicknamed Pont, the school is a university-level institution of higher education and research in the field of science, engineering and technology. Founded in 1747, it’s one of the oldest and most prestigious of the French Grandes Écoles. The band derives its name from the street on which the school is located: rue des Saints-Pères. Today the band is made up of 32 members who come from the Pont and elsewhere.

Euphonium (I think) players in pink and yellow....love!

Tuba player

Beer break....

....and from the backend

Woman standing next to me....check out the SOCKS!

And so, on Saturday, instead of flute and oboe concertos, I was treated to a front row Lion Dance and a super brass band....in my book, it doesn't get much better than that.

Et c'est pourquoi, j'aime ma vie à Paris!!

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