On a chilly Tuesday evening last fall a group of about 25 students of all ages gathered in the Shaw Center for the Arts workshop theatre to learn a style of dance that was at once infectious and slightly foreign. They weren’t learning Bollywood or Argentine tango – they were learning how people dance just a few parishes to the west.
“One of the things we’re blessed with in Acadiana is that the culture, the music, the dance is not in danger of going extinct. It’s very much alive,” instructor Corey Porche said.
“So my mission is not to save it, but to expose people here to something that’s living and breathing just an hour away.”
Husband and wife team Corey Porche and Danielle Honeycutt Porche started teaching weekly Cajun dance classes at the Shaw Center and the Mid City Ballroom last fall. Throughout the four-week series students learned the basic Cajun two-step, the jitterbug, the waltz, turns and the “frame,” or posture, which they would need to dance while the accordion and fiddle played in the background.
Corey has taught Cajun dance workshops at the Ashokan Center in New York and at festival camps through Louisiana Folk Roots. During the classes he dug deep into the basics before showing off fancier moves.
While Corey drilled the basics, Danielle took on more of a caretaker role.
“It’s really important when we’re teaching that I’m kind of like a mother hen,” Danielle said. “I want to make sure all the little chicks are feeling okay, they’re enjoying themselves, they’re having fun.”
In addition to mastering the moves, the couple encouraged the students to really listen to the music and imagine they were dancing in a casual setting.
“It’s just a beautiful way of interacting with other people,” Corey said. “In Acadiana everybody dances with everybody. Husbands and wives and partners are dancing with other people and it’s not weird. It’s a communal thing.”
The couple admits that the classes were created for slightly selfish reasons. Since moving to Baton Rouge in 2016 they haven’t been able to find many dances in town. Why not try to bring that Lafayette social scene here?
“We really have to make the plan to go somewhere, usually out of town, to listen to this music and dance to it,” Danielle said. “That’s why we’re really inspired to try to find a way to bring it here, so we can enjoy it more in our own backyard.”
According to Corey, the dancing is fun on its own, but it’s even better when considered in light of the broader Cajun culture.
“It’s all in context, so I feel like the dancing by itself or the cooking by itself or the way that we interact by itself is not as great as the whole,” he said. “Cajun-Creole culture and Cajun and Zydeco dance is something that we do in Lafayette. It’s not something that’s only done once a month or only done in a folklore context. It’s something we do on Friday nights on the streets downtown.”
Back in the Shaw Center workshop, students were reluctant to leave after the last lesson finished and the music stopped playing. Many students asked where in the area they could show off their moves or when the next class series would begin.
The Porches hope to teach more classes this year, focusing on an intermediate or advanced level Cajun dance class and a Zydeco dance class. They also want to bring in bands “from across the basin” to grow that social dance culture here in Baton Rouge outside of a class setting. If the students’ enthusiasm is any indication, the Porche’s mission seems to be working, one two-step at a time.
Images: Sean Gasser