Six On, Six Off: Wild West Adventures (with a Parisian Twist)
By David Ferrell, SecondAct Online Magazine (January 11, 2012)
The scene occurs regularly at well-known honky-tonks and barbecue joints throughout Texas: A bus pulls up and 40 or so French tourists get off. Although they speak little or no English, they are dressed like Roy Rogers—or Dale Evans—and they’ve come to dance.
“They’re in cowboy hats, vests, jeans and lots of turquoise—southwestern jewelry—and, of course, boots,” recalls bartender Dan Tillia, who watched them pour into Artz Rib House one night in Austin. The strangers cut up the dance floor well into the night; in fact, they kept the band on stage an hour past Artz’s usual closing time.
“They pretty much took over the place,” Tillia remembers. “It was quite a sight.”
The man responsible for the spectacle is Georges Badoux, a former restaurateur who has carved out an unusual niche taking dance students from France on far-ranging, 11-day tours of Texas cowboy country. His Dallas-based company, Opal Tours, books the guests with the help of a partner in Paris, and Badoux guides the excursions himself, standing in the bus with a microphone and a speaker clipped to his belt. He shows them the tourist sights and whisks them to night spots where they can practice their western line dancing in authentic surroundings.
Mindful of the sizzling summers and windy, frigid winters on the wide-open plains, Badoux limits his tour schedule to the spring and fall. The rest of the year he is free to concentrate on his passion: long-distance bicycling on the open road. He trains and takes part in organized rallies that often go 60 to 100 miles and involve thousands of riders, as in the case of the Hotter’N Hell 100 ride in Wichita Falls, Tx.
“I really enjoy it,” Badoux says of his six-month-on, six-month-off schedule. “And I put all my heart into it.”
The Belgium-born Badoux, who operated a French bistro there in the border town of Liege, moved to the U.S. 25 years ago and owned and ran a French restaurant in Tucson, Ariz. He says he was first exposed to the tour business while on vacation; he befriended a Club Med official in Mexico and agreed to serve as a tour guide for members visiting Tucson and later the Grand Canyon.
Being on the road and showing curious travelers the local attractions was fun for him. Eventually, in his late 40s, Badoux made the career switch, selling the restaurant and commiting himself to guiding tours. He was escorting visitors through Mexico’s Copper Canyon when he met his wife, Keven Ann Willey, an executive at the Dallas Morning News. Badoux moved his fledgling tour company to Texas 10 years ago.
Europeans—especially the French—seem to be fascinated with the American west and the gunslinging culture popularized by John Wayne movies, he says.
“There’s a real mystique,” says Badoux, who is 63 now. “Cowboys and Indians are a huge, huge thing over there.” France alone has hundreds of clubs devoted to western-style dancing, Badoux says.
Colin Gravois, Badoux’s friend and collaborator in Paris, attributes part of the fascination to the opening of Euro Disney, now known as Disneyland Paris, in 1992. The park includes a cluster of restaurants, one devoted to a western theme with live dancing, Gravois says. As the French began discovering the place, the employee in charge of the dancing began training instructors who spread the art form.
“It took about 10 years,” Gravois says, “but it really caught on big-time.”
Gravois, 65, who was born in French-speaking Louisiana, in the small river town of Vacherie between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, wound up in Paris after serving an overseas stint with the U.S. Army. Tourism became his own second act after spending much of the 1970s as a feature writer for the International Herald Tribune. His company, America Forever, sends the French on tours of New York, Los Angeles and other parts of the United States. Several years ago, he reached an agreement with Badoux to run the Texas tours together.
“Georges is a good guy, very smart,” Gravois says. “He manages the tours, guides them, finds all the best places. There’s a lot of details to address when you’re doing travel. You’ve got to have the hotels ready, the meals ready. Georges is an old pro.”
Badoux starts the tours in Houston and motors through San Antonio, Austin, Waco, Fort Worth and Dallas. Tourists dance and listen to live music at places like the Broken Spoke and Billy Bob’s. They go horseback riding, take a hay ride, shop, and visit historical sites and museums, including the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, site of the John F. Kennedy assassination.
When the country music is blaring, and French are gussied up in their cowboy hats and boots, kicking up their heels on the dance floor, laughs are easy to come by, Badoux says.
“It’s really fun,” he says. “Every night it’s a different surprise, a different story, and we have a blast.”
This piece originally appeared in the online magazine SecondAct. SecondAct contributor David Ferrell is a Southern California journalist and the author of Screwball, a comic baseball novel.