English Speakers’ Corner
Welcome to Chestnut
From the beginning, the aim of Chestnut has been to introduce the magnificent repertoire of English historic dancing to the French. So our website is mainly in French.
But for dancers from Britain, Europe, the United States or even further afield who may be unfamiliar with French, we thought it would be useful to create a page in English. Written by a native English speaker, it will be about the activities we organise that could be of particular interest to our Anglophone visitors, such as the dance workshops we regularly hold in Paris and/or our annual costume ball.
Cécile is equally at home teaching and calling in English or French or in a combination of the two, and attending a dance workshop or the Costume Ball is the perfect recipe for a rewarding visit to Paris.
To write it, we naturally turned to our English friend Annabel Simms because she knows Chestnut very well, having danced with us for years. She also knows Paris and particularly its surrounding countryside very well, having moved here from London in 1991. She is the author of two acclaimed guidebooks in English about little-known daytrips from Paris by train.
We leave her to introduce herself to you in her own words.
(You will find the link to Preparing the Costume Ball at the end of this page)
I’m delighted to have the opportunity of telling you about my experience of English historic dancing with Chestnut.
When I signed up for my first beginners’ class in September 2007, I thought it looked very easy. Then I was mortified and embarrassed to see how difficult I found it and silently resolved to stick it out for the first class but not to come back.
All that changed when a recording was switched on and beautiful music, I think by Purcell, filled the shabby dance hall. I was instantly hooked and have been coming back on Thursday evenings ever since. All of this in spite of the fact that I still don’t find it easy and have remained more or less a permanent, but contented, beginner.
I can’t begin to tell you in how many ways I find the classes rewarding: they require total mental and physical concentration, a musical ear and the ability to work with others, in a foreign language. None of these things come easily to me. I am a writer and spend a lot of time at my desk alone, thinking in English, so it is deeply satisfying to practise dancing in harmony with others, in French.
Cécile is a perfectionist, something I have grown to appreciate more and more over time. Unlike the historic dance groups I have tried in London, at Chestnut you are actually taught, and a certain elegance is encouraged, right from the start.
I’m not prepared to put in the hours at workshops I realise would be necessary for me, not a natural dancer, to really master the steps, but I get a lot of fun out of trying, for an hour and a half every week. It’s the perfect break from writing.
I also appreciate the warmth of the group members, and the welcome they have given to the novice friends I have occasionally brought with me. I have known Cécile, Eric and some of my fellow dancers for years now and it feels rather like belonging to a family.
Here is a scan of Flirt on the floor, an article I wrote for the UK Sunday Telegraph in September 2008 about my early experience of dancing with Chestnut.
And here are details of my two guidebooks to the Paris countryside by train, An Hour From Paris, 3rd edition 2019 and Half An Hour From Paris 2018, updated new edition out in Spring 2023.
Looking forward to keeping you updated about Chestnut and to meeting you in Paris,
To take a look at Chestnut’s suggestions for enriching your stay in France, such as preparing for the Costume Ball, please click here.