Friday, January 13, 2017

Boogie Toes, Part One: Swamps, Zydeco and Local Liqueurs

If you haven’t danced in two years, it takes a few beats to get your rhythm back.

I learned that early during my New Year’s Eve week in and around Lafayette, Louisiana. “Laissez les bon temps rouler" (Let the good times role), as they say in Cajun country, and my friend Carol Stern and I did just that.

We went down on a Cajun/Zydeco dancing junket organized by Dick Brainard of Portland, OR. He had arranged at least one dance per night, and there were some daytime options as well. We danced with people from Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida, Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon and Washington state, all there because of Brainard’s email blasts.   A few locals showed up, too, along with a guy from France. The Frenchman’s English was so limited I couldn’t determine whether he lived in Lafayette or was just visiting.

Carol on our swamp tour
We arrived by car Tuesday night, December 27, and had dinner at Randol’s, a Lafayette restaurant with a dance floor. The Cajun Ramblers were playing, and we met and danced with Dale and Rudy of Minnesota, among others. It was a good way to start the week, because it helped us exercise our boogie toes before hitting the Zydeco circuit. Cajun music has a Country flavor, so it’s slower and easier to dance to than the high-energy, eight-count Zydeco. “I haven’t danced in a couple of years,” I told Dale, as we two-stepped around the room on the wooden floor. I was embarrassed, but quickly recovered.

Wednesday Carol and I spent two hours on Lake Martin in a crawfish skiff with Cajun Country Swamp Tours ( in Breaux Bridge. Our guide, Bob Gary, made the swamp come alive with commentary on the feathered, finned and corrugated creatures that live there. We spotted alligators hugging logs as they soaked up the warmth of the day, and learned that they don’t eat from fall to spring. Catfish, gar, white perch and large-mouth bass swam beneath us.
Hugging or humping? 

Turtles climbed up on logs and stretched their necks, while a great blue heron with a five-and-a-half-foot wing span glided overhead. Snowy egrets waded along the shallow edges, patiently waiting for dinner to swim by. Egrets eat alligators up to a foot long, swallowing them tail first so the ‘gators won’t eat their way out of the birds’ bellies.

A bald eagle perched in a tree with lunch in his talons, while his first cousin, an osprey, sailed  through the air above him. Pesky cormorants were so numerous we thought we were in a re-make of Alfred Hitchcock’s, “The Birds.” We watched an anhinga (snake bird) flying so low it skimmed the water’s surface. It sometimes has trouble taking off because its belly gets so full, according to Gary. 

Before we left, I could tell the difference between the cypress and tupelo trees — most of the time. The cypress wears a wide, gathered skirt with folds, while the tupelo has a smooth bottom. A cypress tree’s roots plunge as deep as its height above water, and Cypress knees are part of their root systems. With their only enemy being a fungus that eats them from the inside out, they can live hundreds of years.

Bread pudding -- yum!
After the tour, we asked Gary for local restaurant recommendations, and selected Crazy ‘Bout Crawfish Cajun Cafe. I had chicken-and-sausage gumbo. It became a favorite while I was in Louisiana. So did the cafe — we ate there again that night, enjoying a fried seafood platter. That’s when I decided I didn’t like étouffée, but loved alligator. As for desert, the Cafe's bread pudding was divine.

What we really appreciated about the restaurant was that they sold some local liqueurs by the bottle. At least, they told us they were local. Turns out Evangeline’s Praline, an original pecan liqueur by Sazerac, (, is distilled and bottled in Maine. “Evangeline’s Pralines is part of our New Orleans heritage brands and was developed by our sensory team at Buffalo Trace to match the unique and rich flavors of New Orleans pralines,”  Amy Preske, public relations and events manager for Sazerac/BuffaloTrace/Barton1792 Distillery/A. Smith Bowman, explained to me in an email. Carol doesn’t care for pralines, but loved the liqueur. Each of us bought a bottle of this sweet, smooth libation. In addition, I bought Satsuma orange liqueur by Bayou Satsuma, which is distilled and bottled by Louisiana Spirits LLC of Lacassine, LA (

That night, we danced to the music of the Pine Leaf Boys at La Poussiere, a Breaux Bridge dance hall. Wilson Savoy, son of famous Cajun musician Marc Savoy, fronts the band with his button accordion. It seemed unusual to hear electric guitar and drums in a Cajun band, but the instruments helped the Boys infuse their Cajun sound with Rock ’n Roll energy.

You can get an idea of what Cajun/Zydeco dancing is like by clicking on the arrow above.  Lafayette dancer/videographer John Moran posted the video. Most people you’ll see are doing Zydeco dancing to Cajun music, except on the waltzes and two-steps. Those are pure Cajun. You won’t see me in this video, but I’ll have some links in subsequent posts that will show glimpses of my style.

Stay tuned (no pun intended) for Parts II and III.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like a bunch of fun. I'm not much for dancing, but I haven't tried a lot.