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Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Le Son Continu - Chateau D'Ars - Practical Guide

This is my practical guide based on 4 days at the 2019 event mainly aimed at the UK based/English speaking dancers.

Summary: Although this is primarily a musical instrument makers event, there's a lot of dancing opportunities.

Getting there

According to Google Maps, it's a 277 miles/4 hours 45 minutes drive from the ferry port at Caen. That's not as bad as you might think. French roads are straighter, less crowded and better maintained than UK roads. Driving in France is quite pleasant. Also, on the autoroutes, you are allowed to drive at 130km/hour (about 81mph) most of the way. If you avoid tolls, it takes another hour and the roads are similarly good, straight and uncongested

Food & Drink

Just outside the gate, there's a greengrocer who also sells cold cans and a nice sort of potato/cheese slice. Inside the festival, there are good number of food stalls selling salads, burgers, pizza, etc. The small town of Le Chatre is a couple of miles away has cafes and a Lidl

There are several bars on site

The Event/Programme

The main large organised dances start at midnight and and feature well known Balfolk bands such as Bargainatt, Gregory Jolivet, etc. A wider mix of musicians play in the chateau courtyard  for dances during the day and evening too. There's at least one dance workshop each day.

The real delight of this festival is the less formal dancing: There are 4 small dance floors set up around the site. There's nearly always musicians playing and people dancing on these during the day, evening and into the night. I went to bed as late as 0430 and people were still dancing. You will also find a lot of musicians sessions around the site and quite a few people dance at those too.
The stage in the woods

Although the core dancing is Balfolk, quite a lot of people experiment with other styles - not as a explicit event, they just throw in eclectic moves when they feel like it. Some of the bands play more unusual music too.

While there's plenty of people who can and will accept offers to dance the usual Balfolk stuff, there are a proportion who say "Je ne sais pas danser" ("I don't know how to dance") because they're at the event for the music/instruments/conferences/sales.

There's also a some concerts and meetings about instrument making as well as over 100 trade stands selling Hurdy Gurdies, Bagpipes and other instruments.

Language

I walked through the car park one day counting number plates. Around 95% of the cars are from France and when you take into account some Swiss and Belgians, the first language really is French.

Meeting Friends

  • Don't arrange to meet a friend on the main dance-floor, La Pommeraie. after midnight. It;s too big, crowded and dark for this to work reliably
  • As there are several dance-floors, bars, hurdy-gurdy shops, etc. they are not particulalry good meeting points/landmarks. You might do better with the box office or instrument store as there's only one of those.
  • Mobile coverage is seems OK but if you have any problems, use old-fashioned SMS/text rather than phone, Facebook or Messenger as it tends to work better if the network is struggling.

Other Points

  • This is a fairly laid-back festival. People will play loud instruments on the camp site during the day and evening. Take earplugs if you need to sleep during these times. 
  • I found the hot showers to be reliable 
  • Don't be put off by the "dry toilets". They're much better than you might expect. They occasionally smell

Saturday, 20 July 2019

Grand Bal de l'Europe - Gennetines - Practical Guide

This is my practical guide based on 10 days at the 2018 event mainly aimed at the UK based/English speaking dancers.

Getting there

According to Google Maps, it's a 336 miles/5 hours 8 minutes drive from the ferry port at Caen. That's not as bad as you might think. French roads are straighter, less crowded and better maintained than UK roads. Driving in France is quite pleasant. Also, on the autoroutes, you are allowed to drive at 130km/hour  (about 81mph) most of the way. If you avoid tolls, it takes another hour and the roads are similarly good, straight and uncongested. 

Food

Unless you plan to drive in search of food/restaurants, you should plan to eat on site. Some food traders do attend but their hours are short - I never even saw them. The festival's own catering is OK and in some ways very flexible. For a fixed price, you can mix and match. So, if EG you want lots of cheese but no sweet course, you can. At the checkout they check what you've got and give "change" in the form of tokens for a coffee or an ice cream. If you've taken too much, you have to put an item back!

The buvette (bar) sells some snack items on a more flexible schedule.

The nearest (small) shop is in is in Gennetines village itself which is 2.5 miles away. You'll probably prefer to drive to the outskirts of Moulins where you'll find huge supermarkets and even a Burger King.

The Event/Programme

This is primarily a dance festival. there are lots of Bals (dances), and dance workshops. Do not expect concerts, morris dancers or other "display" dances. It's participatory dance - oodles of it. From around 2100-0300, there are 7 dancefloors in action and they're really close together so there's no need to plan and commit to a venue.

Two of the dance-floors. Some are even closer together than this

 The workshops happen in the daytime and after 0300, the number of active floors goes down to two for the "Boeff" which is where anyone who wants to can play their instrument and anyone can dance.
A "boeuf" (late night session)

A lot of the Bals are Balfolk but a wide variety of other dance forms are offered. In my experience (as a man) there is no difficulty in getting competent and sometimes brilliant partners. You just ask and because it's a dancer's festival, they say yes and they know what they are doing.

Language

I walked through the car park one day counting number plates. Around 90% of the cars are from France and when you take into account some Swiss and Belgians, the first language really is French. However, some of the workshops are offered in French and English.

Meeting Friends

  • Don't arrange to meet a friend on a particular dance-floor. Some of them are too big, crowded  and dark for this to work reliably
  • However, each marquee has a large number outside one of the doors (EG: "4"). Arranging to meet by "the number 4 on marquee 4" works better
  • Mobile coverage is variable and a lot of people are trying to use it. Use old-fashioned SMS/text rather than phone, Facebook or Messenger.

Other Points

Fundamentally, this festival works. Nothing seems to go wrong - not even the showers - and there are lots of those. If you dance the night away, you will not be woken at noon by someone playing a bombarde in the next tent. That's because the "rules" say you should be quiet on the campsite - because there is always someone trying to sleep.