Monday, May 30, 2005

Uptown Swingers

Almost every Sunday in New Orleans there's a second line. These aren't the ones put on in the French Quarter for the benefit of tourists. They travel, instead, through the old, predominantly black neighborhoods and are largely unnoticed by the rest of the city. Each second line is organized by a specific Social and Pleasure Club (descendents and outgrowths of old-style neighborhood organizations). Each club has its own designated Sunday during the year to parade, and each travels its own particular route twisting several miles and stopping at various bars along the way.

There's always a brass band. Members of the club dress to the nines in coordinated suits and show off their best dance moves* (second lines have their own very distinct dance style associated with them). And dozens or even hundreds of friends, family members, and other revelers march and dance along with them. People dance in the street, on the sidewalk, on porches, and even on top of bus stops. Neighborhood entrepeneurs follow along selling beer out of coolers, and others set up along the way to sell food from grills in the back of their trucks. There's always a police escort, but they merely make sure no one gets too rowdy, turning a blind eye to the various smaller legal infractions that occur (rampant dope-smoking, dancing on bus stops, etc).

We live at the edge of one of the main second line neighborhoods, and occasionally they will pass near us. This Sunday the Uptown Swingers rolled right by our house. I hopped up, hoisted Louise on my shoulders, and we followed them along for about ten blocks (Louise didn't want to stop, but other obligations and my sore back prevented us from going further). I managed to snap a few pictures along the way (although it was a challenge in a densely packed, moving crowd with a good sized child on me) and am posting them here:

If you're itching to see some more second line pictures, go over to Hilary's site. She's got some beauties.

* A number of years ago there was a city mandate that all parading organizations had to racially integrate. It was principally directed at the Mardi Gras krewes, but also theoretically included the Social and Pleasure Clubs. The rule was mostly ignored by the clubs, but our friend, Jorin, was an exception. He had been attending second lines for years and had picked up the dance style. When the ruling occurred, he was invited to join by one of the groups. Now he's a perrenial favorite. Each year his group would stop part of the way along the route at the grandmother's house of one of the members. Inside they would change from the fancy outfits they were already wearing into their really fancy suits with matching Italian leather shoes (the cost of the outfits goes well into 4 digits). Then, one by one, they would emerge from the house and dance on the stoop, showing off their best moves. When Jorin's turn would approach, you could feel the crowd start to get excited, and when he finally appeared they would bust out chanting, "Go white boy! Go white boy! Go white boy!" And he never disappointed. It was a always a beautiful sight.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:36 PM

    An interesting commentary on second lines and some great pictures