Sadly, many of them have been canceled this year due to the pandemic, but most years they are a mainstay of what English speakers call Bastille Day, July 14. The day marks the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris, one of the first turmoils of the Revolution which led to the end of absolute monarchy and the beginning of the Republic.
But what is the origin of this dance tradition and why are firefighters involved?
The origins of the tradition can be traced back to the early 19th century, according to a firefighters‘site which identifies the occasional fire station parties as having started related to a decision by Napoleon to have a festival marking his birthday. The site adds that such events reverse the usual relationship of firefighters and the public: they normally meet because of a drama, while on these occasions it is for fun.
However the official version is that the first true ‘firefighters ball‘was in 1937, connected to the National Holiday.
According to the Ministry of Defense website, this happened in the Parisian district of Montmartre when members of the public started following a group of firefighters on their way back to their fire station after a military parade on the 14th. July.
A firefighter asked his superiors if they could show the fire off to the public.
It was such a success that it established itself as a tradition in local resorts and then across the country, originally with demonstrations of gymnastic prowess and firefighting simulations – then with the addition of more entertainment such as a bar for drinks, bengal lights (a flaming stick) and dance.
With the exception of World War II and the disruption due to Covid, the tradition continues each year with music and dancing until the end of the night.
The dances often take place inside the fire station itself or in the courtyard.
French expression : Mener le bal
Here is a French expression using the word Ball – prom, but not necessarily linked to tonight’s dances.
It literally means “directing the dance” and is now often used in other contexts to mean “directing the show”.