To the people of Southwest Louisiana, music and dance are a part of who they are. They are able to express their sorrows and their joys through music and dance. It speaks of their need to reach out to others, touch, and hold on. Their music and dance issues a powerful invitation to join them and celebrate with them. The Cajun people of Louisiana are rich in this mode of expression.
The earliest known form of public dances were the Bals de Maison, or Saturday Night House Parties. These weekly events were the social highlight of the week, usually at someone’s house, on a rotating basis. These came to be known as the Fais do-do. The musicians were locals who played on their homemade instruments. The accordion was introduced by German settlers around 1880. Things began to change after WWII, especially with the introduction of guitars and electrical amplification.
The early dances were European, i.e. waltzes, polkas, mazurkas and varsoviennes. They were also fond of quadrilles and square dances. By the early years of the twentieth century, most of the old dances and steps started to go out of style. All that remain are the Two Step and the Waltz.
Also inhabiting the same area of southwest Louisiana are the Creoles, descendants of African slaves born in the New World with mixed ancestry including French or Spanish forbears. Like their Cajun neighbors, they began to hold their own Bals de Masion, using the same instruments and songs. But that has evolved as they developed their own style of music, called La-La or Fure, and later Zydeco (which is derived from the French word ‘Zarico’ or ‘Snap Beans’). Their music remains traditional, mixing Cajun sounds and French lyrics with African and Caribbean rhythms. The newer style of Zydeco has taken on elements of Jazz, Blues and R&B, with mixed English and Creole French lyrics.
Zydeco as a dance style is a partner dance where the follower usually mirrors the steps of the leader. In some figures, however, the steps may be completely different, allowing for self-expression and improvisation. Because of the very lively music, the overall style is small sidewise steps with relatively steady upper body and no hip swinging, wiggling or jumping. The basic step takes eight beats and consists of two mirrored parts of four beats each. After mastering the basic rhythm, one may replace simple weight transfers by very small steps to shuffle in place or just a little sideways, or the couple may rotate in either direction. Learn Zydeco by taking a beginner series of classes that will prepare you for going to the many Zydeco events that are held regularly throughout the Philadelphia area.
Cajun music and dance are very popular in Louisiana, and have grown in popularity across the nation and internationally. It’s easy to experience the joy and excitement; just take a beginner Cajun dance class, then visit Louisiana or attend a Cajun festival that may be occurring in your own area.
The two Cajun dances that are frequently heard played by Cajun bands are two-step and waltz. The two-step is the most traditional. The waltz is a smooth flowing dance that is a favorite of Cajun dancers. It is common at a Cajun dance for the band to play a two-step and then a waltz.