Sciences Po has been a bit of a hub of chaos lately. Not only has there been an unexpected crackdown on security (we can now only enter the two buildings through one door on rue Saint Guillaume, and not before showing our i.d. cards), but this week is the 75ème birthday of the Association Sportive.
At Sciences Po, there’s the BDE (Bureau des Elèves) which is kind of the technical French equivalent of ASB or ASUW. Aside from orientation though, they really don’t do much. During the regular school year, parties, events and performances are planned instead by the sports association, who are generally pretty good at what they do – at least the party planning aspect.
It’s thanks to our friends at the AS that we’ve had the opportunity to attend at least one party a week (always on Wednesdays). Now that we’re nearing the holidays, they’ve upped the tally to include weekly cocktail parties along with the big blowouts – i.e. tonight’s AS birthday celebration.
As far as planning anything else goes…I’m not so sure that I’m impressed. This week, the 75ème celebration was supposed to be full of events showing off, what else, the sports association. We’ve been getting emails for the past two weeks detailing the events – photo exhibits, parties, sports classes and dance demonstrations. The dance performances were supposed to be salsa, modern, capoeira and l’hip-hop, organized by the teams and their teachers (yes, technically we’re a hip-hop team).
My teacher (Florence “Flo”) decided to do it like an open class – have everyone (who didn’t have a conflicting class) from the two groups come in to Sciences Po this afternoon and take a class with some pieces we’d already prepared. I thought it sounded fun, so I rearranged my nanny schedule a little bit so I could participate. We’d been getting reminder emails all week from the AsSp, and I think everyone (the coordinators, Flo and myself) assumed that at least a few hip-hoppers would show.
We were wrong. I arrived in the Penîche (the room just past the entry hall of Sciences Po, through which everyone who enters the building has to pass) at 14h20 to find Flo setting up speakers with two girls from the AS. I was the first and only student there. We waited and waited, but no one else from either hip-hop group showed up. The sports association girls were in a bit of a panic because there were huge posters everywhere advertising this hip-hop demonstration, and spectators were beginning to hear the hip-hop music and meander through.
At about 14h40 (ten minutes after we were supposed to start), we figured out that no one else was coming. Flo and the AsSp girls were having a harried French conversation about what they should do about the people waiting to see some hip-hop, the fact that I was all alone and they didn’t want to put me on the spot and whether they could quickly recruit some random students to take part. This last bit was clearly desperation speaking – once you know a few Sciences Po students, you know that they’re not going to be jumping over each other to throw off their pea coats and book bags and break it down.
Finally Flo walked up to me with a look on her face that said, “I know you’re going to say no, but…” and asked if I thought we should go ahead and start. What they obviously didn’t know is that I am the kind of person who enjoys being put on the spot. I love performing in front of a crowd, whether or not I was planning on busting out a hip-hop solo show that day. Of course I said yes.
Since the idea of a demonstration class was clearly not going to work, we instead put together a combination to perform over and over. It was so fun. We usually move a lot slower in class because most of the other students don’t have any previous hip-hop experience, but today we were under pressure. The combination was fast-paced and so fun to dance, and we got to throw in some of the break dancing moves we’ve been working on in class.
With just Flo and I working the dance floor – er, great hall of Sciences Po, we didn’t manage to recruit any students to dance with us – but we did draw quite a crowd. There were two boys (one French, one from Michigan) who’d been homeworking in the Penîche and a little old lady from the Secretariat’s office who were our most appreciative audience members. The three of them watched us for the entire hour we performed, even though we were doing the same combination over and over again as people milled through. We shook it up from time to time by entering the room in creative ways, or adding some freestyle break dancing to the end, but it was really repetitive. Even so, those three stayed until the end – when we got a big cheer upon finishing our final poses in our final run-through.
I stuck around to talk to Flo for a while afterwards, and she thanked me for being willing to perform half-solo in front of all of Sciences Po at a moment’s notice. I assured her that I loved every minute of it (I really am just a big fat show-off), and she told me she actually wasn’t surprised that no French students had turned up to take part in the demonstration. The French are so reserved, she told me, they don’t put themselves into situations they’re not in control of – unless it’s a meticulously choreographed spectacle taking place in an actual theatre. The funny thing is, Cassie said the same thing when I told her about the afternoon.
On my way back from the impromptu spectacle d’hip-hop, I found my passage blocked by yet another protest march.
When I first arrived in Paris, I was fascinated by manifestations in the streets. Actually the word manifestation doesn’t really make much sense here in English, but in French, it can describe a protest, march, rally or other demonstration.
I witnessed my first Parisian protest march in August, just a few days after arriving in the city. It was a demonstration against France’s (and Sarkozy’s) immigration policies, and I was pretty enthralled, taking photograph after photograph to document it. I saw my second march barely a week afterwards, and my third a few days after that.
I’ve probably been privy to some kind of protest every 10 days since landing at Charles de Gaulle. If it’s not immigrants and sans-papiers, it’s architecture students, université students, or pompiers (firemen/EMTs). Today it was a performing arts union.
I used to stop and watch each protest for a few minutes – at least long enough to find out what the demonstrators were trying to accomplish. Now I roll my eyes thinking, “yep, I’m in France,” and hurry to the other side of the street before my route home is completely blocked. Strange the things that I accept as day-to-day life here.