Monday, December 10, 2012

An American In Paris: Shattering Stereotypes

Kaley Willis /
Paris sprawls below in the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower

By Kaley Willis
PARIS, France - When one thinks of France, they may think of men with curly mustaches and berets, puffy poodles walking along the sides of the Eiffel Tower, and rude American-hating Parisians parading around with baguettes.
Kaley Willis /

The Eiffel Tower
During the past Thanksgiving break, I found myself in the heart of France busting quite a few of these myths.
Instead of these stereotypical ideals that we have of Paris, I found a beautiful city filled with passion, lights, genuinely nice people, and the best coffee you will ever drink.
I was invited to dance abroad in France as part of the American All-Stars national dance team. The stress of packing, learning the language, and preparing myself to perform in front of many people in a completely different country was almost debilitating; little did I know, I was in for the best week of my life.
Upon landing at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris after an eight-hour flight from the United States, the tour group of dancers I traveled with and I were whisked off immediately to the Arc de Triomphe, one of the more famous monuments in the city.

Kaley Willis, atop the Eiffel Tower
Being overwhelmed with the beauty of the city within the first hour of landing made it all seem like a dream, a dream that I wouldn't wake up from until the next day when it hit me – I was in Paris, France, one of the most breathtaking cities in the world.
When it finally occurred to me what was happening, I ran into the French shower of our French hotel and bathed in the French water with the fancy French soap. The French-ness of it all was so exciting, I was ready to dive into the activities planned for the day.
On the second day of our tour, we went to Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre, a famous hill that is the location of many hit films. Getting to walk the streets of Paris like a local and see the sights was the best part of the trip to me.
Many people in the Montmartre area roam the streets and perform for money. For many of them, it is their only source of income. Sketch artists, cooks, dancers, and even Michael Jackson impersonators show off their best abilities, hoping to bring a smile to the faces of the tourists and locals and get a little cash.
Kaley Wills /

Disneyland Paris' 20th anniversary, where
the American All-Stars danced.
After a long day of roaming Montmartre and a long night of dance practice with the American All-Stars, the next day was performance day at Disneyland Paris. Eighty performers from sixth to 12th grade from all across the American South danced in front of about 200 Parisians in the Disneyland Videopolis, the stadium designed for park performances of The Lion King.
It was an amazing experience to project my passion for dance to new people, and all I could think about onstage was, "I'm dancing in Paris, France ... how did I get so lucky?"
Kaley Willis /
Chateau de Fontainbleu
The rest of the week was a continuation of breathtaking experiences, meeting new people, learning my way around the city and making myself at home.

Kaley Willis on the Lock Bridge in Paris, 
where couples fasten a lock to the bridge 
and toss the key into the Seine River for good luck.
On Thanksgiving Day, the last day of my trip, I took a river boat cruise on the Seine River and traveled to the top floor of the gorgeous and famous Eiffel Tower. It was the perfect ending to a perfect week in the city of lights and love.
Going to Paris was the best decision of my life. Being granted the ability to escape my small town of Sulphur, Louisiana to experience one of the most passionate and wonderful cities in the world is an opportunity I’ll forever be grateful for.
If you ever have the chance to travel to France, take it. You will not regret it.
Although you may be disappointed when you don't spot many French poodles and curly mustaches, the rest of the city will more than make up for it.
All-American dancers from Louisiana in front of the Eiffel Tower. From left: Kaley Willis of Sulphur, Katie Neil of Houma, Hailey Borel of Sulphur and Alexus Lirette, Breanna Schwab, Aryel Roger, Rachel Dufrene, and Cherish Use, all of Houma.

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