Earlier this week, I let wrote a tiny post about joining a Mardi Gras dance group. As of today, I’ve been to two practices, so I thought I’d give you an update, plus a slightly better explanation of just what it is I’m doing.
First off, for anyone who doesn’t live in New Orleans or know much about Mardi Gras, a little background on what I mean by “dance group.” If you’ve ever watched a television program that featured Mardi Gras, you might have some idea of what a parade looks like here. First off, parades are funded and thrown by a social group called a “krewe.” A typical parade will feature large, colorful floats, pulled by tractors. Most of the time, the floats are coordinated to match the theme of that year’s parade – some themes are political and/or satirical, others are magical and family-oriented. There are many parades each Mardi Gras season, and there’s something for everyone.
Parades are made up of multiple components. No two parades feature the same make-up, but generally speaking, the bigger parades have floats, marching bands, and dancing/walking groups. Some parades have people on horseback, the bigger ones have flambeau men (people who carry these special flaming torches), and then there are other groups that have special contraptions to get around (for instance, my mind immediately brings up the Krewe of the Rolling Elvi, a group of Elvis and Priscilla impersonators who ride scooters and other wheeled devices).
Though there have always been dancing and walking groups, they’ve gone in and out of popularity over the years. When I first moved here nearly 20 years ago, there weren’t very many dancing groups that allowed adult participation. I remember being absolutely in love with the school color guard and dance teams that marched alongside school marching bands (check out the video of all of the marching bands in one of the biggest Mardi Gras parades, Bacchus, above).
One of my friends even dressed up as a schoolgirl majorette for a couple of Halloweens, just because we were all so obsessed with getting to wear those cute little ankle boots with the pom poms, and OMG, the sparkly leotard and little matching headband! I was bummed that I’d never had the chance to do something like that in high school (though I did march in every local parade as an Air Force JROTC drill team member).
Fast forward a few years, and suddenly, adult dance groups started to pop up. It turns out that my friends and I weren’t the only ones getting wistful about missed opportunities to strut our stuff. I moved to Chicago in 2008, and upon my return in 2012, swore that “next year” I would join a dance group. “Next year” kept getting pushed back, and now here we are.
(It strikes me that this is actually me following my own advice – “Girl, get your shit together!” – look ma, I did! I have! I’m gathering this shit, and dragging it with me as I dance my ass down St. Charles Avenue next month!)
Anyway, I always wanted to join a dance group that actually danced in the parade, not just got drunk and staggered down the street for the entire 6 miles of parade route. Believe it or not, this is a thing. I’ve also marched with Krewe of Chewbacchus as a Red Shirt (parade security) for a few years, and am all too familiar with the drunk folks walking in the parade, and drunk folks walking outside of the parade, and the very specific fun that is involved with keeping the two groups separated. This all goes to say that you’ve got to be selective about what parade groups you join, and make sure that they’re going to fit with your personal needs and aesthetic. I just wanted to put more effort into the routine, and look smoking hot strutting my stuff, you know?
But as you might expect, the groups that work really hard on dance routines also have auditions to choose new members. Some really popular groups, like the Pussyfooters, require you to be sponsored by current members to get in, then there are hours of mandatory volunteer work, and the costumes are intense. I love them so much, but I’m not cut out for that level of commitment. I’d never make it into Sparkle Motion.
I needed a group with a short rehearsal window and a sense of humor. I also wanted a group that was known for adorable costumes, and was hoping for a place where I could meet friends and continue to dance throughout the year if things worked out with parading. I also love old dance movies, and am minorly obsessed with Weimar Era Germany, so any chance to wear a bob and do some synchronized dancing to old jazz is kind of a dream come true.
Miracle of miracles, I’m pretty sure I’ve found exactly where I belong, with the NOLA Chorus Girls. It’s not a traditional Mardi Gras-centric dance group, which is something that I think works in my favor. It’s kind of a cross between a dance class, performance team, and social group. The membership works in sessions, and you can sign up for as many sessions as you’d like, and take a break whenever you’d like.
Every session learns a new dance routine, and every performer has the chance to perform the routine they’ve learned in a public venue at least once per session. During the Mardi Gras session, we get to learn TWO routines – one for the parade, and one to perform at a later date. There are two rehearsals per week this session – one for the parade, and one for the regular dance routine.
My first rehearsal was Wednesday, and I fell in love immediately. Our teachers (aka. “Dance Moms”) are funny, kind, and informal, while being super knowledgeable. They made it clear that we’re all here to have fun and learn together, and that we don’t need to feel pressured to perform perfectly or to even perform at all, if we don’t want to. The laid back vibes and warm welcome made me instantly comfortable.
We spent most of the class period introducing ourselves and talking about costumes, makeup, and other assorted factors that will come into play for the performances. The last portion of class was spent learning some of the routine (cue sheepish grins from Dance Moms who’d let us gab for a lot longer than originally intended). There were about 30 of us in the class, and we fell into the practice with little effort, and lots of smiles. I was sad to go at the end of the night, and found myself already planning a future as a chorus girl.
Today was our first parade practice, and there were at least 80 of us. There are three separate groups of dancers, meeting Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to learn the same dance routine. Some (but probably not all) of those dancers are also performing in the parade, and then there are parade performers who are not learning the routine during the week. It makes for an interesting mix, and was fun getting to hang out with so many women, all excited to learn a new, but old-fashioned, parade routine set to old-timey jazz. We practiced marching to the beat, then learned part of the parade routine and practiced doing it in formation down the street. I feel pretty good about how much I could remember, given that it was my first day trying it.
At some point, I’ll share more specific insights about learning to be a chorus girl, and what shoes, makeup, hair, and costume look like. I’m cautiously hopeful that I’ll make a friend or two. I love our teachers already, and there are a couple of women that I already feel comfortable chatting with, so fingers crossed at succeeding in dance and life, all in one fell swoop!