Cajun & Zydeco Dancing
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. They were also fond of quadrilles and square dances. By the early years of the 20th 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 side 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.
Lindy Hop & Swing/Jitterbug
These dance styles originated in the 1930s, with Lindy Hop being the oldest. Named for Charles Lindberg (Lucky Lindy was the nickname that he acquired after his historic solo plane flight across the Atlantic Ocean).
The Lindy Hop is an eight (8) count dance. which is done to a ‘blusey’ dance number. It was derived from another dance that was popular in the 1920s, the Charleston. It was popularized in Harlem, NY, by African-American youths of that era. The first part of the dance isn’t all that complicated, but it does require the Leader to be proficient in his ability to lead his partner, through the series of lifts, turns (Lindy Circle) and other off-balance movements, such as ‘throwing the woman over his back or between his legs’ (known as ‘aerials’). You may have seen some of these ‘moves’ in the movies of the 1930s.
Mr. Frankie Manning (1914–2004) was a member of the Jivin’ Lindy Hoppers. He was still teaching Lindy Hop ‘moves’ well into his 80s. I did get to a few of his workshops when he was in town. I have a photo of him, in my studio, doing one of his ‘classic’ moves.
This dance style became popular during the Big Band era of the 1940s. It is still popular today. Even our younger generation will be seen doing some form of Jitterbug, and they attend Swing Dance events, sometimes. They ‘caught the bug’ with the Swing revival of the late 1990s.
Swing/Jitterbug is a derivation/modification of the Lindy Hop. Both dance forms start the same way, but Swing/Jitterbug is a lot less energetic than the Lindy Hop–no lifts or anything that has your partner ‘airborne’. I teach Swing/Jitterbug as a six (6) count dance, which is the style I learned in my youth. I tend to like teaching my classes using 50s-60s rock and roll. It is easier to follow the beat with this music.
• I give Private and Group Lessons in both styles. Check the Blue Sidebar for more info.
• I am available to host your event with Swing Dancing and a dance lesson is included.
• I can do ‘live’ or recorded music for your event.
Country/Western Line Dancing
This dance style has existed in various forms since the 1920s. It has evolved from its early roots in the Cowboy Dances up through Country Dancing, Square Dancing, English/Irish/Scottish jigs and reels.
Its music has various roots that include Rockabilly, Country, Swing, and The Blues (which is attributed to early Negro music from the South).
Country/Western Line Dancing became popular after WWII, mostly in the South. It moved North somewhere in the 1950s. It has gone through its share of ups and downs in popularity. The early 1990s saw a major resurgence in its popularity, especially in this area, with the opening (and eventual closing) of at least a half-dozen dance halls.
The dances themselves are not really hard to learn. It depends on the instructor as to the tempo that they prefer for a particular dance. Some of them are very fast, so that you give up and head back to the bar.
By definition, C/W line dances are done in lines, as the name suggests. There are no partners. Couples dancing together, though, on the outside of the ‘ring’ may know the couples version of the same dance).
These dances are usually four (4) wall dances, i.e. with each time the dance repeats, you have moved (rotated) a quarter turn (1/4) either left or right, in the LOD (Line Of Direction) of the dance.
Some of the dances are directly related to a particular song—Achy Breaky Heart, for instance. But, most of the dances can be done to other tunes, unless specified, when the dance was first taught (copyright issues). But today, some C/W dances are done to all different styles of music, Rap included. You’d be surprised as what types of music has entered into the C/W realm.
And, as I indicated before, you don’t need a partner, so this would work at an event for singles (or same sex couples). I only use recorded music for this dance form which makes me affordable for most events.
Square Dancing (Appalachian Mt. Style)
Square Dancing is a very old form of social dance, first documented in England by John Playford in 1651, and soon spreading to France. These dances came to the United States in early Colonial days, brought by the English and the French, which explains why some steps have English names and some have French names, all within the same dance.
Most are done with four couples facing each other in a square formation, but some, like the popular Virginia Reel, are done with partners facing each other in two long lines, and some are even done in large circles! Once in the appropriate formation, the couples follow the steps directed by the caller in time to the music provided by a live band or recording. The idea is to follow the calls as closely as possible, but perfection isn’t required.
I chose to be a Square Dance caller because I like to watch people having fun. Sure, they make mistakes sometimes, but who cares? They are moving to the music, getting exercise, and getting to know each other. That’s why I started attending Square Dances many years ago, why I’ve studied Square Dancing, and why I enjoy teaching it.