I grew up in a Baptist household were the joke went, “Why don’t Baptists have sex standing up?… ‘Cause it leads to dancing.” So, how do I end up at a Mardi Gras dance party with several of New Orleans best Zydeco and Cajun bands, making our feet move?
The alternative to movement is remaining sedentary, which to me has always been somewhere between sedation and stagnation. Growing up, in a time before a diagnosis with hyperactivity attached to the title, I was just considered hyper. I was always moving: running around the yard, climbing trees, riding a bicycle in the neighborhood, digging holes somewhere… But, dancing would not come along until college.
I avoided all the high school dance events, partially from religious influence, partially from lack of exposure to the music of the day (the only rhythm I recall my father listening too was the reciting of the stock reports on AM news radio), and partially for lack of friends who attended dances. The slippery slope into dancing started with one of my first records from the college book store: Glen Miller, Fats Waller… Big Band, swing… I was hooked.
In my second round of college, my first date with the Second Administration was a campus dance with Room Full of Blues. Big band, swinging R&B… what could be better. Unknown to me at the time, Room Full of Blues comes from the Current Administration’s home state of Rhode Island and my future Bro-In-Law has been involved with the band in local venues. But, I would still be under the Second Administration for a while, and she decided that I needed some introduction to actual dance steps. Fortunately, the college offered social dance classes as a physical education alternative. Swing was the thing. Along the way, I picked up some Waltz, Fox Trot, Rumba, though I will not insult the Tango to say that I ever figured it out.
Well, the Second Administration ended, I graduated and moved to NYC, where I ventured out to the old style dance halls, like Roseland. During that time, my professional organization had its convention in New Orleans. A day into the convention, I heard that there was this music festival going on somewhere. That was an invitation to investigate my first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Out at the fairground there were a dozen stages playing everything from Dixieland to Gospel to Jazz to Blues to Zydeco to Cajun to Country to Rock, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Then you would wash up before going out to dinner and clubs. What professional convention?
That was the year I met the Current Administration at a friend’s retirement party. She had lived in New Orleans after college and had attended previous Jazz Festivals. Score one for right topic. When the calendar coordinated, we were off to one of many Jazz Festivals that we have attended. We also discovered that the Washington, D.C. area has a strong zydeco community which sponsors and attends dance evenings at the Barns at Wolf Trap, the Spanish Ballroom at Glen Echo Park, and various clubs around the suburbs. We worked on refining our dance steps, though I cannot say that we every really figured out the steps correctly. But, we cover up with style.
In case you are not familiar with either zydeco or cajun, or the difference between the two, here is a quick history lesson. French Arcadian folks move to Nova Scotia. Brit’s kick them out. They traveled south finding homes in the French territories around the bayous of Louisiana, bringing with them traditional fiddles and small accordions and dances like the two-step and waltz. Meanwhile, Western African slaves are brought to New Orleans from the Caribbean islands. They bring their Creole culture, heavy rhythms and adopt the full size accordions. The French develop rural cajun music. The city-dwelling Creoles develop zydeco music.
The zydeco dance step is similar to a 4/4 swing (step-step-rock-step) with two additional pause beats (step-pause-step-pause-rock-step) using three 4/4 measures for two step-cycles. A Cajun swing is a quick 4/4 rhythm (step-rock-step-rock), with style added by the arm turns. Both styles slow down the pace with waltzes that should travel around the room. To confuse the distinction, zydeco bands will play cajun tunes and cajun bands will play zydeco rhythms, and there is swamp-rock. For more confusion, unless you are out in the real dance halls in Louisiana, many couples will be adding all sorts of steps and styles, which they happen to know. Hard-core zydecoers will zydeco to sound–checks.
And, the years passed with more Jazz Festivals, dinners at dance clubs, and music events with dance bands of various styles. Then we discovered the annual Mardi Gras dance at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Rhode Island with family and friends who have traveled to the Jazz Fest with us. Our feet tap. Our feet move. We dance.
Where have your feet taken you lately?