Monday, May 07, 2007

Diversity Series

Two Steps To The Right, Then Two Steps To The Left
By Lindsay Cooper

It was a formal reception in which classical music was playing in the background and champagne and hor d’oeuvres were served in the upstairs room of the “Firebird” restaurant located in Midtown Manhattan. Within half an hour my father, Douglas Cooper, the groom was married to Barbara Benisch, a tall slender woman dressed in a silk white long dress with her blonde hair pinned up. They appeared like a typical bride and groom.

Soon after the quiet and elegant ceremony, everyone aged 50 and under piled out of the restaurant into the crisp afternoon air and the caravan of eager party guests set out towards the New Jersey skyline for the festive reception party. Arriving in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, I walked into a small, cozy suburban house and heard the loud beats of drums and the scratching sounds of spoons running up and down a washboard wafted into my ears.

Suddenly, a traditional style wedding was turning into an unexpected non-traditional evening. The crowd was extremely diverse: from suburban Jews to Louisiana Bayou natives. I’ve never met nearly half of these people. Walking through crowds of people chatting and drinking, I made my way to the bride’s small, quaint living room, which was filled with dozens of people dancing closely together. I could feel the heat rising as everyone’s feet and hands moved quickly to the pulsing sounds of the Louisianan band.

My father introduced me to a woman named Lisa, known as “Zydeco Lisa” who was dressed in tall black boots. She taught me the basic Zydeco steps. “It’s quite simple,” Lisa said, “you move your feet two steps to the left and then two steps to the right.” As I followed her moves to the beat of the music, she told me that Zydeco dancers develop their own variations based on the simple two-step.

As I left the dance area shortly to catch some fresh air, Lisa strolled over to me and immediately explained to me how she got involved in Zydeco music by attending concerts and lessons at studios held throughout New York City and New Jersey. She also said it only took her a short amount of time to master this type of dancing because she had previous experience in other similar types of dancing that used a lot of the same steps. She enjoys Zydeco dancing, almost on a daily basis and is even interested in becoming a Zydeco dance instructor.

Zydeco is a modern form of Creole music from Acadians, which developed soon after World War II. It is a popular kind of music based on the accordion and rooted in the southern Louisiana Creole culture. Today, Zydeco has adapted many pop music elements like the blues, soul, disco, rap, and reggae using modern musical tools such as the drums, electric and steel guitars, saxophones, horns, and keyboards. Songs may be sung in English, French, and Creole.

As the evening progressed, I noticed that the Zydeco culture my father and his new wife were passionate about attracted quite a few older eccentric people. Another couple named Jeffrey and Laura who I talked to at the wedding party knew the bride and groom from Zydeco lessons they all took together in the city. They were an older couple that initially appeared quite serious and conservative— one would not have guessed that they were experts in this type of Cajun style dancing. Both of them told me how much you have to appreciate live music to really enjoy this kind of dancing.

An hour later, they were confidently swinging each other across the dance floor. Another guest who I spoke to was a younger man named Arturo who also became very interested in Zydeco dancing because he felt that it was not a competitive and high pressure activity like some of the other types of dancing. To him, Zydeco dancing is “simple fun” and a very relaxed activity that helps distress him from life’s other stressors.

Although most of the people at the reception were quite experienced and fully involved in the Zydeco culture, the band members truly represented the essence of this southern folk scene. The band was originally formed by Chubby Carrier who started this family orientated music group in Louisiana. His brother, Troy Carrier, known as Dikki Du, played the drums.

The band has been around for eight years now and is currently touring New York. In a brief discussion with Neal Carrier, the youngest band member and son of Dikki Du, he expressed his passion for Creole style music as a traveling musician. Carrier, also known as “Zydeco Neal” plays the Scrub board. He explained to me how Zydeco music and dancing has influenced a large part of his identity growing up and that performing it across the country reveals a sense of familial pride.

The other band mates are Charles LeMark Jr, Kevin Carrier, and Levi Rivers. Charles LeMark Jr., known as “Big Red” or “Cool Daddy” plays the drums and has played with Chubby Carrier for two years. Kevin Carrier plays the bass and is the nephew of Roy Carrier. Levi Rivers is the new member of the “Krewe” and plays the guitar. He is very experienced in Zydeco dance particularly the two-step and the slow bunny hop. “I didn’t even think twice about hiring this band for the wedding—they are just very friendly and always attract a large crowd of people” my father informed me.

At the end of this eventful and unforgettable night, it became clear what the craze and excitement of Zydeco dancing was all about, which attracted many older, working city dwellers like my dad. It is a vibrant, and loud folk type of dancing that has gained popularity among a variety of people because it also creates a strong social network of people. This holy union today occurred because of the unordinary and energetic hobby of Zydeco dancing that brought two of these soul-searching individuals together.


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