At Richmond's CreoleArts zydeco dances, the only rule is to have a good time.
Do the Zydeco
Dance promoter Talia Moser got tired of running up the highway to Washington every time she got the itch to dance the zydeco. So she finally took the plunge, starting her own dances with her friend Richard Day, importing authentic bands from southern Louisiana and spreading the word about the joys of the energetic country shuffle. Now, a year and a half later, CreoleArts dances are attracting a growing number of Richmonders.
"The challenge we have is that Richmond is not real big on live music," Day says as the spirited Afro-Caribbean rhythms of a zydeco band rock the stage of The Boulevard Deli. "My hope is that the word will spread that we're creating a scene."
The scene that's emerging around the CreoleArts dances attracts singles and couples, twentysomethings through sixtysomethings. There are some dance whizzes and some dance duds, some toe-tappers and some chit-chatters. Some dance every dance and work up a righteous sweat, while others have a go or two and take a seat to watch the fun. Some stick with one partner all night, others move freely, asking many to dance. The more experienced dancers may try to convince the retiring types to give the floor a go, but nobody's pushy. The whole scene is loose, lively and friendly.
"This is music you've got to move to," Moser says catching a breath between dances and flashing a smile. "Life is too short to be shy."
Dances are held two Thursdays a month and if Day, Moser and the 80 or so others who paid the five bucks to come on one recent evening are an indication, there are increasing numbers of people hooked on zydeco's pulsing beat and the dance step it inspires. Many are first-timers cautiously checking out unfamiliar rhythms while some are looking for a bit of Louisiana in West End Richmond.
Before things get started, however, there's a little business of how to dance the dance. Day and Moser start the evening with an informal 45-minute lesson to acquaint new folks and reacquaint the experienced with the deceptive eight-count shuffle of zydeco dancing. After a few confidence-building minutes, everyone pairs off and the beat quickens.
Here's where things get tricky; while some capture the rhythm and the shifts of body weight, others find it tough to loosen up. Day encourages everyone to relax and have patience, to get comfortable with the count and do what works. For her part, Moser suggests everyone bend their knees to keep the center of gravity low. These and other tips don't always translate to everyone's internal rhythm machine, but the lesson gives all a chance to get comfortable and maybe find a patient dance partner or a new friend. And once the bandleader's accordion kicks in there's enough honest spirit filling the room to get most anyone's good times rolling.
Moser remembers her early efforts to learn the dance and knows the step-step-step, hold-and-tap move can be a challenge. "I just couldn't get it, but finally it kicked in," she recalls. "Now it's like breathing."
At 8:30 p.m. the band begins and dancing starts in earnest. Day and Moser are proud that the bands come directly from zydeco country, whether it's a young band like Dwight Carrier and the Zydeco Ro dogs, or Dwight's legendary uncle Roy Carrier and his band, the Night Rockers. Those who come to the dances experience the music the way it's played in the Louisiana dance halls: with plenty of drive, bounce and swing. Pair this irresistible rhythm with a dance step that's part art and part workout and these bits of transplanted Louisiana culture set a lively backdrop for an energized social scene.
Stopping between dances to adjust the blue bandanna that keeps the sweat out of his eyes, Day says he's glad he and Moser don't have to leave town anymore to dance the zydeco. "There's nothing like this in Richmond," he says. "The only rules are you have to have a good
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