Sunday, August 17, 2008

Festival Feet

Last week I went to my first ever full blown Zydeco/Cajun Dance Camp, Buffalo Gap Jambalaya. Once before, about 7 years ago, I went to a dance camp, which I thought was a pretty interesting experience. I spent a week sharing a college dormitory room on the Davis & Elkins College campus in Elkins, WV learning west coast swing, Lindy and Argentine Tango. This latest experience, learning more about Zydeco and Cajun dancing, was in a more rustic setting, to say the least, though every bit as interesting as a dance camp could be.

I dropped Dixie off the night before we left where she was staying for the week and, the next night, Wednesday, Cordy, Judy & I headed southward for a few hundred miles. We spent the night at Cordy’s parents’ place, where, the next morning, her mom went off to have cataract surgery.

We waited until she returned home safe and sound before heading on to the dance camp. Cordy’s mom came in to her home from the out-patient surgery sporting a large patch over one eye and wearing big, dark wrap-around sunglasses. She apologized for not being able to recognize us, which, under the circumstances, was no surprise to us. She then tottered around the house, mostly feeling her way, into the bathroom. When she came out she said to her husband – “how come you didn’t tell me I was wearing these sunglasses? No wonder I couldn’t see where I was going!

We got to the camp/festival and checked in, getting the requisite wrist band, packet of materials and our cabin assignment. Cordy went off to the women’s cabins and Judy and I went to find the cabins set aside for couples.

The camp, used weekly by many different types of organizations and groups of people throughout the season, is very – basic. Each cabin probably has about 16 to 20 single beds, with a bathroom shared by all. In our cabin there were 16 beds, eight on either side of the bathroom (and showers), which was located in the center, it sort of being like the hub of things. However, it’s not the kind of place you really want to spend more than the requisite time in. Theoretically, as many as eight couples could share the cabin and its two showers and two toilet stalls.

In our cabin, there were only Judy & I and another couple on our side but there were four couples on the other side. For privacy, the couple with us hung sheets around their beds, giving it a canopy effect. Judy and I pushed two bunks together and made a double bed, forgoing any attempt at further privacy. It worked out okay; the couple we were with were pretty quiet and the folks on the other side, snoring aside, were nice and friendly. It was a congenial group. Folks were, by and large, more or less modest and natural body sounds were, for the most part, ignored.

Everyone who attended was assigned a cabin bunk – men in the men’s cabins and women in the women’s cabins and couples in the, well, couples cabins. I think there were probably close to 300 people at the camp, more than a few, a bunch really, electing to stay in tents and just use the cabin for its facilities. Some people, I learned, set up “get lucky” tents, in the event they did. I don’t know if they did, but I guess the opportunity was there and if they tried hard enough they just might get lucky enough to share their tent with someone else.

The festival started with a Thursday night dance. On Friday there were morning and afternoon workshops for both Zydeco and for Cajun. I went to the advanced workshops for both. After the afternoon workshop, there was a late afternoon dance and then, after supper, an evening dance. Saturday was a repeat of Friday except the Saturday night dance was considered a bigger deal. The theme for Saturday night was the roaring 20’s. Some people, mostly women, got dressed up. One guy, I guess there always has to be one, was in drag.

I figured, over the course of the three and a half day weekend, I went to four 90 minute workshops, to three afternoon dances and to two evening dances. The dances were about 4 hours each and I suspect I danced pretty much every dance. You know, you get to dancing, want to practice the moves you’ve learned in the workshops – repetition being the key ingredient to learning and remembering the techniques, and adding them into my repertoire. I did remember to hydrate, in order to not cramp up.

I also ate like a horse. The dining hall was a large rectangular building with long tables. We all went through a buffet line and, at each meal, filled our plates. On each table there was a basket of fresh fruit and so I was always in apples and oranges. The theme to the suppers was Cajun cooking and so it was spicy. All in all, the food was good and filling but nothing to write home about.

The festival/dance camp ended with a Sunday afternoon dance to wrap things up. There were three bands and the dance was open to people just coming for the day. The pavilion swelled by about a third. It was pretty crowded. Over the weekend I tried to dance with the people who were in my workshops, since we could, and did, help each other with what we’d learned. It was kind of tough trying to work on a move with someone who didn’t know what you were doing but, when I got the lead right, the follower was able to get there.

I have to admit I danced pretty hard on Sunday for the three hours we were there on the dance floor. After having packed up all our stuff in the morning and loaded everything in the car, we headed on over for the final afternoon dance.

In the car, about an hour or so after leaving the Camp, on our way to Cordy’s parents for supper, to be nourished in preparation for our assault on the final six hours of driving ahead of us, I noticed my feet hurt and felt as though my shoes were too small. After taking my shoes and socks off, I saw that my feet were swollen and at least two toes on each foot were bruised. My feet were too swollen to be in shoes. I showed my feet to Judy. She looked at them, smiled, laughed, then said, “Cordy, look. Frank has Festival Feet.” Apparently, this is what you get when you’ve danced pretty much non-stop for 12 – 15 hours over three and a half days.

At supper, I sat with my feet encased in bags of ice. I couldn’t even feel the ice, my feet were so hot. But, boy, did it feel good.

Festival feet: A rite of passage; the consequence for being a new dancer and not learning how to pace oneself. I’m not sure if, next year, I’ll develop them since, like getting sea legs, it generally only happens once- the first time; but, it’ll be fun to find out.