The email sounds ominous. It is an invitation to a meeting of the (mostly French) line dancing troop to which I belong.
‘Everyone will have a chance to air their views. The grievances of all dancers will be heard and NOT just those who shout the loudest,’ it says. I'm not quite sure what the grievances are but it sounds like we’re going to be discussing more than the colour of our uniform this time.
And so I arrive in the harshly lit community hall on a cold Monday evening for the line-dancing equivalent of Agincourt. I can’t help but notice that the lines have already been drawn: les anglaises are grouped together at one end of the trestle table; a posse of angry looking French ladies at the other.
At the French end, facing down our leader Jeanne, is Chantal, who is rather scary at the best of times. Arms folded, paprika-coloured hair teased into angry spikes, she looks positively murderous tonight.
The reason is a recent telethon event, where we were supposed to perform six dances. Jeanne however, cut this down to three on the night, so that the four other line dancing troops who had travelled from across the region to be there would get their fair share of time on the dance floor.
‘We were very angry not to be allowed to do these other dances,’ says Chantal. ‘And our husbands were also very angry.’ (I doubt this very much: a little line dancing goes a long way as far as most husbands are concerned.)
There are murmurs of supportive anger. Someone else complains that we are not learning enough new dances - this despite the fact that the routines have recently become so complicated and the atmosphere so intense, that half the class has dropped out and it is no longer any fun.
The meeting culminates with Chantal and her six supporters storming out. The rest of us vote to carry on with the Monday night class as usual. But the following week, only two French ladies show up and one of them - the keeper of the key to the community hall - announces that she won’t be able to come anymore. Chantal and her possé, it seems, got to them in the intervening week.
I’ve written many times about how line dancing is one of the fastest ways to integrate in rural France. But who would have guessed it could evoke such passion and end in such disharmony? On the bright side, at least I won’t have to wear the new brown uniform.