Monday, January 1, 2007

Zydeco Dancing

There are always lots of reasons not to try something new. If you’ve never done it before, how do you know you’ll prefer it to staying home and rereading Jane Austin or watching reruns of The Simpsons? I can’t recall my excuses all the times I failed to get myself to one of the monthly Zydeco dances held in New York. It’s been on my mental To Do list for ages, but I doubted I could corral anyone else to go, and, well, something else always came up.

Until last night. My recent visit to New Orleans reminded me how much I like the music, a colorful website called “Let’s Zydeco” gave me the location (Connolly’s Bar on 45th St.) and the subway on my corner took me there. I went alone, which was fine, since I’m usually braver that way. A small group, including me, arrived in time for the advertised lesson an hour before the band was to start. Surprisingly, there were almost as many men as women, and Laura, the teacher, paired us up in the same embarrassing way I recall from Sixth Grade dancing class. (“Anyone who doesn’t have a partner, raise your hand.”) This might have reminded me of earlier dance floor humiliations, but instead it freed me to notice that, what a miracle, I was beyond being embarrassed on this score. (What else are we no longer embarrassed by, I wonder? Any nominations?)

On a less promising note, I turned out to be no better than I ever was at listening to verbal instructions and translating them into movement. I believe the experts now have a fancy term for it: auditory processing deficit. My feet cannot be told anything; they need to be shown. Fortunately I was saved by a strong, experienced partner, who suggested I ignore Laura’s shouted instructions and just listen to the music and follow his lead.

John Seltzer had arrived in New York earlier that day from Palo Alto to visit his 96-year-old father. He’s an old Zydeco hand and a personal friend of the band leader Geno Delafose. (PBS called Delafose “a standard-bearer for traditional Zydeco.”) John tells me he is a regular at the Friday night Zydeco dances in Alameda, California, which, I later read, attract “a joyously random group of people . . . like an explosion at the Norman Rockwell factory. All races, all ages, all demeanors.”* That’s a pretty good description of the hundred plus people who end up at Connolly’s by the end of the evening. There are guys in cowboy hats and guys in suits (one, anyway); guys with dreadlocks and guys with ponytails. Women are just as variously arrayed—in everything from jeans to swirly skirts and spangled tops. One lovely woman, who told me she was a widow, was wearing fabulous lavendar cowboy boots I wanted to snatch off her feet.

It’s a friendly, benevolent scene, and if you were of a mind for it, I’m sure you could connect with someone. But that’s optional—there’s certainly no sense of people checking each other out. The point is to dance and have fun. Which I do. The band is terrific, and I’m lucky enough to be twirled around the floor by some great partners, who don’t seem to mind doubling as dance teachers. But I make myself the same promise I did at Tipitina’s: before I return I’m going to take some real lessons. If I can have this much fun faking it, imagine if I really knew how to dance the dance.

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