I met Margot in a museum during my first week in Paris. I was still jet lagged and groggy and recovering from the virus I’d caught on the plane. She was dancing in front of a lit up screen in a dark, silent room. I had no idea what was going on but the sight gave me chills.
I took my phone out and hit record.
About a minute and a half later she stopped dancing. I walked over to her, confused but in awe, and introduced myself. She was humble and kind.
(She gave me her consent to post the video!)
We chatted online for the next few days and she invited me to come to a dance class she teaches. I don’t know what came over me, but I said yes. Five days later I was plotting out a 50-minute, 3-train-transfer trek across Paris to attend her Thursday night workshop.
It did not occur to me to be nervous or concerned until I was halfway there, slammed against other sweaty commuters on the metro. But then, of course, it did. What am I doing? I am going to meet a virtual stranger? To dance? Who am I?
Margot was waiting for me at the metro stop when I arrived. The nervousness had fully set in but she greeted me like we were old friends. She did the classic French double cheek kiss thing that I hadn’t gotten used to, but I was comforted by her kindness.
I followed her through Park Porte de Bagnolet and down the quiet streets to Studio Bleu. We climbed the narrow spiral staircase and sat at a wooden picnic table in a dimly lit, narrow hallway outside the studio. We were early.
We sat and talked as more and more girls rounded the corner from the staircase. There were more and more awkward double cheek kisses and polite confusion about why I was an American in Paris, and (I determined later) a masked curiosity about how I had discovered their very special space.
Margot has always been a dancer. Last year after she had her precious baby boy she took a break from competing and founded Un Temps Pour Elles as a positive and safe space for girls. It is a dance class but it is also a community.
Many of my girls from dance class are of the Muslim faith, and were originally connected through a feminist organization in France called Lallab. Lallab, I learned, aims to liberate and empower Muslim women through education and community. They host discussion groups and events and documentary screenings. They are artists and dancers and poets and friends and I am so grateful that they welcomed me in.
In preparing to write this blog post, I checked with my friend Maryam to make sure I understood the meaning of the name. While I certainly don’t pronounce the name correctly in my head, I knew it to mean “a time for girls.” Maryam explained to me that while, yes, that is technically correct, it is also a play on words. In French, un temps pour elles is pronounced almost the exact same way as intemporel is pronounced. Intemporel means timeless.
It scares me to think about what would have happened if I had been in that part of the museum even just 5 minutes earlier or later on January 4th, the day I met Margot. Meeting these girls and being welcomed into their community has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I was bumbling around in the back of the room on my first day of class (trying to follow Margot’s every move because I couldn’t understand her instructions) when I quickly glanced at myself in the mirror and realized I couldn’t stop smiling.
The joy in the room was undeniably contagious. These girls are like magic. I remember thinking that even if everything else in Paris went horribly wrong, it would have been worth it to travel across the world just to meet them once for the two hour class.
There was no competition, no judgement, no calorie counting. Just love and light.
After the first class I was totally exhausted. I felt like I could fall asleep standing up. But as we dressed and prepared to brave the Paris winter, they invited me to join them for dinner. They just welcomed me right in and I felt like I had known them forever. I really knew it was meant to be when they told me we were going out for Mexican food. (My favorite! I was so happy/hungry, I could have cried!)
I didn’t get home until midnight that night and I had work the next day, but I stayed up late writing every little detail in my journal. I wanted to freeze time, or at least remember as much as I could. I knew instantly that our time together would go by too fast.
The girls are all French, but when I am around they graciously weave English into conversations so that I can feel included. They added me to their “Dance Crew” group chat and because I like to be an active participant, I vigorously copy and paste their every message into Google Translate before replying in English.
We are the same in so many more ways than we are different, and I felt so connected to them from the very start.
I struck gold with these girls.
There are a million things I could tell you about each of them. They are beautiful and complex. They are patient and kind. I am crying as I type this.
They are love come alive. They are friends I know will be there for me regardless of the continent or time zone or how awful of a dancer I continue to be.
If you’re reading this, I wish for you the kind of love I experienced upstairs at Studio Bleu.
I hope you will meet a leader like Margot, a goofball like Fatima, a soul sister like Maryam. I hope you get to talk to someone as articulate and bold as Raja, and as simultaneously sarcastic and gentle as Ines.
I hope you take chances on yourself and bravely pursue unexpected joy. And I hope you find your people, even if they are in a sweaty dance studio on the opposite side of the world.
I hope you find your Un Temps Pour Elles and I hope it is timeless, even if you can’t stay forever.