My darling daughter is making her debut this weekend –– dancing on the Kids’ Stage at the Bayou Boogaloo. As I told Ian McNulty when he submitted this week’s blog on the Boogaloo: “I have no real expectations for this. Chances are high that she will panic, pee her pants and/or vomit and flee the stage.” Ian’s response: “I’m pretty sure that’s how Lady Gaga got her start.”
I’m no Lady Gaga, but that’s pretty much how I got my start. In kindergarten, I was cast as an “Indian woman” in McDonogh 15’s Thanksgiving pageant. I had no lines and only had to step forward when the narrator said, “Indian women,” but I was still an absolute sobbing mess. My principal, none other than current Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell held me on her hip and whispered soothing words to me until I gathered my courage. I can’t say I stole the show, but I did my part –– and then immediately ran off the stage and refused to come back for curtain call.
Ruby is a very different kid than I was, and I’ve never really seen her be shy, but I still can’t anticipate how she’ll react in front of a crowd. But whatever she does, whether it’s tap-dancing like a champ or freezing in place or spinning in circles, I’m proud that she’s taking part in the proud New Orleans performance tradition.
This is a city full of some incredible talent, whether it’s music or dance or acting or cooking, all of which have some element of performance. Many people are formally trained in their crafts, but a lot of them just have such passion for what they do that it’s always going to come out at least better than bad. You don’t have to have taken classes to dance to live music or join a second-line or sing along at Jazz Fest or make a pot of jambalaya. Just wanting to do these things and wanting to do them around like-minded people is generally enough to make the experience a good one even if you’re not great at it. And as Marcie Dickson found out, even when you mess something up, you’ll find a lot of New Orleanians eager to offer you helpful tips on how to do better next time. Trained or not, talented or not, we’re all in this together.
But because I am, according to my father, a huge yuppie, Ruby is taking formal dance classes. (After she rehearsed her tap routine for him the other night, he raised one eyebrow at me and said: “Congratulations. You paid money to someone to teach her how to stomp.”)
But in addition to her stomping lessons, I’m also making sure she gets an informal but no less important education in being a New Orleanian. And of this, at least, my father would approve. He always pulled me out of school on both Fridays of Jazz Fest, and we would spend the days dancing and singing and eating while he lectured me about syncopation and civil rights between sets. And at the tail end of my senior year in high school, when I’d just finished the last of my AP exams, he checked me out of school early to go to Blue Lu Barker’s funeral. “I don’t even care what you have left to do,” he told me when I protested. “You’ve already gotten into college, and you’re going to go away to the damn Midwest and never see this kind of stuff again.” And so my locker remained uncleaned and my yearbook remained unsigned, but I did get to see a truly memorable New Orleans funeral, one I will never ever forget.
Those are the kinds of family traditions I think should be preserved. The tradition of running offstage –– well, that one I could take or leave.
If you’d like to see the outcome, Ruby and her fellow dancing girls are scheduled to take the stage at 2:30 on Saturday. Happy Boogaloo, everyone!