Dancing at the Louvre like Beyoncé and Jay-Z

Ahead of the Paris Olympics, the world’s largest museum welcomes visitors for a very special warm-up

By Julia Webster Ayuso

‘For the next ten minutes, I want you to use as much of the space as you can,’ says dancer and choreographer Salim Bagayoko, as we dance and clap our hands to the beat of the Jackson 5’s 1978 hit, Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground). It’s 8 am and I’m one of roughly 60 lucky people, split into two groups, attending his sold-out dance class. The space Bagayoko is talking about is the huge reception room known as the Salle des Cariatides which was used as a ballroom in the 16th and 17th centuries. It’s also where Molière first performed some of his plays for King Louis XIV. Today, the room’s primary purpose is to showcase a collection of Greek and Roman sculptures that are part of the largest museum on Earth: the Louvre.

Titled ‘Courez au Louvre’ (‘Run in, or to, the Louvre’) today’s event offers museumgoers the unique experience of starting the day by dancing and exercising amongst works of art, in a crowd-free Louvre. The event, hosted by the museum in collaboration with dance company CCN de Créteil et du Val-de-Marne – EMKA, is part of the programming of the Cultural Olympiad, a series of events in the run-up to the 2024 Paris Olympics, and is taking place throughout May before the museum opens in the morning. The event has been dreamed up by dancer and choreographer Mehdi Kerkouche, a rising figure in contemporary dance who works across film, theater, and music. He has left us in the capable hands of instructors, each of whom is teaching a workshop in a different part of the museum’s Sully wing during the hour-long session.

From left to right: Salim Bagayoko, Léo Bordessoule, Mehdi Kerkouche, Queensy Blazin’, and Laure Dary at the Musée du Louvre © 2023 Musée du Louvre, Hanna Pallot
From left to right: Salim Bagayoko, Léo Bordessoule, Mehdi Kerkouche, Queensy Blazin’, and Laure Dary at the Musée du Louvre © 2023 Musée du Louvre, Hanna Pallot

After Bagayoko has made us perform a series of dance moves, including hip bumps, a sassy runway-walk, and a Saturday Night Fever-style ‘disco finger’, we’re warmed up and ready to move on to the next workshop. The mood amongst participants – a mixture of all ages – is decidedly giddy. As our team leader, dancer Jérémie Sibethal, hurries us to the next class, we jog through the empty Galerie des Antiques. There are giggles of incredulity. No one can quite believe we’re here, working out in leggings and running shoes at the break of dawn.

It feels instinctively wrong to run too fast – partly out of respect, and partly to have time to admire the artworks around us. But there’s no time to waste. In less than an hour, visitors will be flooding through the doors and, across the museum, staff can be seen getting ready for their arrival. As we turn a corner into a room filled with ancient Greek sculptures, Sibethal makes an exception and grants us a moment to admire the Vénus de Milo, one of the Louvre’s most famous works, standing elegantly in a room of her own. The silence, and the absence of phones and selfie sticks, is a true luxury.

We jog through the Galerie d’Angoulême, home to the oriental antiquities collection, five adjoining rooms housing some of the oldest treasures in the Louvre’s collections, until we reach the impressive Cour Khorsabad which, under the glass pyramid, is bathed in the morning light. Here the remains of a gigantic city built at the end of the 8th century BCE in what is now northern Iraq, are integrated into the walls. The entrance is flanked by two large winged bulls, and engravings depict protective genii that once watched over King Sargon of Assyria’s royal palace.

We’ve been instructed by Sibethal to dance as we enter this room, and as the beats emerging from it get progressively louder, it’s clear this might be a highlight of today’s tour. Dancer and choreographer Queensy Blazin’, co-founder of a women’s Dancehall group, is waiting for us. ‘I’m so delighted to be here with you, isn’t this beautiful?’ she says, spreading her arms wide as she welcomes us into the majestic room. There’s a round of applause. ‘Is everybody ready?’

‘Courez au Louvre’ in Cour Khorsabad with Queensy Blazin’, Musée du Louvre © Julien Benhamou
‘Courez au Louvre’ in Cour Khorsabad with Queensy Blazin’, Musée du Louvre © Julien Benhamou
‘Courez au Louvre’ in Cour Marly with Laure Dary, Musée du Louvre © Julien Benhamou
‘Courez au Louvre’ in Cour Marly with Laure Dary, Musée du Louvre © Julien Benhamou

Blazin’ teaches us some Dancehall moves such as a ‘Willie Bounce’, which involves bouncing up and down to the beat whilst adding playful arm and hip movements, and ‘Cut Dem Off’, a jump forward combined with crossing your arms in a cutting gesture. As we put our heart and soul into our moves, shaking our hips and shoulders, Blazin’ reminds us that dancing here places us in the same privileged category as Beyoncé and Jay-Z, who chose the Louvre as the setting for their 2018 Apeshit music video, in which the couple appear alongside artworks including the Mona Lisa and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.

By the time we say goodbye to Blazin’ we need a moment to catch our breath, but we’re also sad this is already coming to an end. It’s time for our final workshop: yoga. We step into the Cour Marly. Yoga instructor Laure Dary is sitting cross-legged atop a vast staircase leading up to a sculpture ‘garden’, showcasing French neoclassical masterpieces that once adorned the park of the Château de Marly, one of Louis XVI’s holiday residences near Versailles.

‘We’re going to start by simply taking a few deep breaths and stretching a little, because I know you’ve been working hard,’ says Dary, speaking softly over the calming music playing in the background. As she walks us through a series of cat-cow stretches, planks and downward-facing dogs, my gaze inevitably moves from one graceful statue to another, depicting horses and divinities that once stood amongst groves and fountains.WATCH NOWThe Carters, Apeshit, 2018. © 2018 Parkwood Entertainment LLC, under exclusive license to Sony Music Entertainment, and SC Enterprises, under exclusive license to Roc Nation

‘I hate to hurry you but we’ve got 30,000 people arriving in a few minutes,’ says Sibethal, as our vinyasa flow comes to an end. As we make our way back through the empty halls to the locker area under the main pyramid, the clock strikes 9 and the spell is suddenly broken. Within seconds, tourists from around the world fill the museum’s treasured halls. Our privileged time is over and the remaining sessions are all booked up. ‘Your ticket gives you access to the Louvre for the rest of the day so you can come back later,’ Sibethal reassures us. But from now on, it will be impossible to visit the museum without remembering the time we danced and jogged in these grand empty rooms. Admittedly, it may be difficult to share the Louvre with others now that we’ve had it all to ourselves.

Credits and captions

‘Courez au Louvre’ will take place until May 31, 2024. Learn more here

Julia Wesbter Ayuso is a writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in The GuardianThe New York TimesTime magazine and Monocle among others publications.

Caption for top image: ‘Courez au Louvre’ in Salle des Cariatides with Salim Bagayoko, Musée du Louvre © Julien Benhamou

Published on May 20, 2024.

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