‘Paris can be a hard city – remember why you came’

In this week's edition of The Local's My France series we’ve asked Brian Scott Bagley – an American burlesque dancer and choreographer who moved to Paris in 2006 – to tell us about life in the City of Light and some of his favourite haunts.

'Paris can be a hard city - remember why you came'
Photo: Brian Scott Bagley

Where exactly are you from Brian?

I’m from Baltimore, Maryland.

How did you end up living in Paris?

I was a student at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York back in the mid-2000s, when I ended up meeting [theatre director] Jérôme Savary, who hired me as an assistant-choreographer for his Paris show ‘La Recherche de Josephine Baker” (‘Looking for Josephine Baker’). So it was 2006 when I first came here.

What kept you here?

Well, that show ran for a few years, and I worked on a couple of others afterwards, but ultimately I stayed because of this city, and the people I met here. I’ve also been on a little bit of a mission to bring musical theatre to Paris, because when I got here, there wasn’t a whole lot.

What’s the very first place you always take visitors in Paris?

The very first place has to be the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais. It’s free, and it gives you this amazing history of Paris from thousands of years ago up to the late 20th century. Every time I go back there with friends I seem to find a new room.

And after that?

I’d take you down the street from there to Place des Vosges, which is the oldest square in the city, and has these beautiful lawns and fountains. Walking under the arches is perfect for spring, but any time of year you can always sit in one of the cafés there and relax.

From there, we’d go down Rue du Pas de la Mule and Boulevard Beaumarchais to the Bastille area. Now, there are a whole lot of great places I could show you, between Rue de la Roquette and Rue de Lappe, but I’d probably bring you to Le Balajo. It’s a dance-hall with so much history, and a great place to see some burlesque on the weekend.

Now that we know what you like to show visitors, where in Paris do you keep all to yourself?

I share everything, but one place I go to when I’m feeling all bohemian and blue is the Jardin du Luxembourg in the 6th arrondissement – specifically the Medici Fountain, and the statue of Acis and Galatea there. It’s the perfect place to contemplate, get nostalgic, and spend some down time.

Where do you go when you get hungry?

There are some fantastic African places in the 11th arrondissement, in particular Le Manguier, which is a great Senegalese restaurant on Avenue Parmentier.

Très Honoré is a wonderful restaurant at Place du Marché Saint-Honoré in the 1st arrondissement, especially because they serve crab-cakes, which being from Baltimore, I can’t resist.

I think my absolute favourite dining experience in Paris, though, is at Le Petit Saint Benoît in Saint Germain des Prés. Jean-Paul Sarte and Serge Gainsbourg used to go there, and the ‘confit de canard’ is fantastic.

What would you say to another expat thinking of moving to Paris?

There are two things to consider if you’re thinking about moving here. First, how much money do you have, and where is it coming from? That is, do you have a job lined up and can you get all your paperwork taken care of? If you’re not French, when it comes to bureaucracy you just have to be prepared to do what needs to be done – again and again and again.

Second, why are you thinking of going to Paris? If you expect to immediately find love, happiness, romance and a life of ease, you will probably find yourself disappointed. Paris can be a hard city, and it has a way of beating you down just to make you prove you really want to stay.

But, when things get tough, you have to remember why you came in the first place, and hold on tight to that. Then you’ll find that Paris is an incredibly rewarding place that is actually full of love and joy and friendship.

So, do you plan to stay?

Yes I do. I have some work and some projects here that I want to complete, but aside from that, I love this city. I call it my ‘living museum’. I’ve been blessed with great neighbours, and a wonderful group of talented, brilliant friends who are artists, intellectuals, dancers, singers. Sometimes we’ll be hanging out, and I’ll think to myself, “Wow – I am really living through history, aren’t I? Someday someone will write about all of this.”

Brian Scott Bagley performs his one-man burlesque show at Theatre la Cible every Sunday night, and can be found on most days performing a ‘song and dance’ routine on Metro lines 3, 9 and 8. He has been called “the new Josephine Baker.” Keep track of him here.

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