by Renée Rothman, June 2019
So we were sitting under a tent at the Creole Tomato Festival (yes, we celebrated a local tomato…good, but not as tasty as New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes…don’t tell). The next band was comprised of at least three musicians who also worked as Park Rangers at the National Jazz Park—we’d seen them at the parks Tuesday free concert series. They played a creole form they called Afro-Louisiana: jazz, zydeco, you know: dance music. Music created to be accompanied by dancers. And the dancers responded.
Naturally I scoped out the best dancers and followed them intensely. I kept trying to follow their footwork but kept missing the beat. So I began videotaping them for later study.
I spotted a beautiful woman in a white turban dancing with a very handsome black man. They danced a smooth, sultry style that awed me. I knew them. I’d seen them once before at Bamboula’s, a club in the French Quarter. Even wrote a blog about them that I never got around to posting. I’m going to do so here so you will understand why I was so thrilled to see them again.
That Night at Bamboula’s
March 10, 2019
I see now that my spirit has shriveled over the last few years. I didn’t realize how much. But Saturday night I found a little piece heaven replete with its own Goddess and God, a Host of Angels, and a Band.
And my spirit quickened.
It was the first Saturday after Mardi Gras and the crowds were still in a celebratory mood. We had taken the St. Charles streetcar down to Canal and walked through the Quarter to Frenchmen Street. Frenchmen is where the local musicians go to play and listen, so the street is lined with live music clubs, funky little art shops, and of course, restaurants. We listened in at a half a dozen club doors to find just the right music for our mood. But once we walked passed Bamboula’s and heard those zydeco rhythms, nothing else would do.
Crawdaddy T’s Cajun Zydeco Review was already in the hot zone when we arrived. The sound, loud and rhythmic, drove out all thoughts of the day and left room only for exhilaration. Virtuosic performances on the electric violin, the harmonica, and the washboard. Did you ever think there was such a thing as a virtuoso on washboard? I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t know music this divine existed in the real world, anywhere. That’s what I mean by “bereft”: I’ve too long been starved of the best humanity has to offer. And this music, music that refuses to accept stillness, that lifts you up and moves you, is the best.
And then…a heavenly couple entered the dance floor. When they began to dance, I gasped. They moved as if they had been dancing together for a thousand years. Their dance released pure love and joy like incense. They took divine pleasure in moving together, being in intimate physical and spiritual connection with the beloved. Dancing. Pure and perfect dancing as only the celestials can perform. It was, for me, a dancer, a peak mystical experience.
That’s about when I realized that I had found Heaven and it came with a Goddess and a God and a Band and that I wanted to be a member of this congregation.
Clearly I was inspired. I didn’t see these dancers again but hoped that if I kept listening to zydeco bands, I might see them again. And here they were. Not only the heavenly couples but others of equal skill and expressiveness. It seems to be a genre that lends itself to stylistic interpretations, some more vigorous than others. But the couples that drew my attention had a unique style that looked like something I might be able to do. I’m hoping to see them again at this weekends big Cajun-Zydeco Festival. And this time I’ll find out where I can learn to dance like that.