Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Fitness Challenge: French Jive Class

Each week intrepid reporter Rachel Grunwell will try out a new form of exercise to bring you the lowdown

Anyone can learn the French jive. Photo / Thinkstock
Anyone can learn the French jive. Photo / Thinkstock

What is it? An informal street dance style that was born when the American GI's introduced Paris to the jitterbug in World War II. It has since changed into a French hybrid that's still loved in Paris.

What's needed? You need not bring a partner. Smart casual clothing that allows for movement (jeans are okay). Shoes that let you carry off a soft spin (not rubbery or sticky sorts, but heels work).

The experience: I want to be all girly-girl and wear a twirly-whirly skirt. Think of those 1950s poodle skirts in the flick Grease. Awesome.

I'm at the Victoria Avenue School hall in Remuera for this month's French jive class organised by dance teacher Angelique Meyer. You might remember her from when she started the Ceroc dance craze in Auckland. She sold that franchise, but missed teaching so she started up this gig.

It's not really a business venture. "I was just hankering to be creative again", says Angelique.

She also hopes the classes will help her to meet some neighbours "because it's hard to meet people in Remuera!"

Angelique reckons anyone can learn the French jive (she's even taught a man with a prosthetic leg).

I'm as nervous as heck because I've brought along two left-feet. Angelique tells me I'll be fine, and at least I'm not carrying some traumatic school-days dance experience. "The school social has a lot to answer for!" she reckons.

Anyhow, it takes a spoonful of courage to walk into this roomful of strangers, knowing that I'll be holding hands with all the blokes shortly. Not because I'm a tart, but because that's what you do. Everyone rotates partners every few minutes and learns a few more steps, and so on, until you end up dancing with everyone several times by the end of the hour.

There's about two dozen people here, spread out into five rows, blokes paired up with gals. The guys lead ("It's perhaps the last area of male domination left" I hear a woman joke).

Angelique demonstrates each new step, we all practice, and bit by bit, we learn all 25-moves. All while we're finding the beat to the likes of Nat King Cole, Roger Miller, Sammy Davis, Amy Winehouse and Michael Buble.

It's like rock 'n' roll, but not at the speed you might whip cream, so you can get your head around it.

The moves have names like the breakthru, hatchback and open-neck-break. But in plain-speak it's moves like holding hands with a partner, stepping away from them and then coming in together so we are side-by-side and hip-to-hip, with some spins thrown in and a handshake-hold.

By the end of the lesson, I've grasped the routine and swapped my two left feet for the "right" feet. I even get some fine-tuning from those with "fancy-feet" who advise "chin up" (ie, stop looking at your feet) and "have tension in your wrists" (ie, so they can steer me better into moves).

I'm pretty chuffed to be twirling about in time, it's delightful. And it's neat to meet some new folk too.

After the lesson, the hall fills with others who have come for general dancing and a cup of tea that's served in floral china cups along with lamingtons. Love that retro feel. What I also love is that any age is welcome.

I wish my Grandma Ann Haley lived closer so I could take her. I rave to her about the dance and she says it's what she and my granddad loved to do "in our day".

How much? $15 (cash)

Worth it? This gets you smiling and your cheeks red.

Try it: Next class: November 18, Epsom Normal Primary School, 41 The Drive, Epsom, 3pm, and from 4pm-6pm is general dancing/ practice/drinking tea/chatting. Check out frenchjivedance.co.nz

Rating: 9.5/10

- Herald on Sunday

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