Just the word Zydeco makes my heart pump furiously. I love the peppery blend of soul, blues and R&B with its roots in Louisiana Creole culture. The joyous upbeat mix of a squeezebox accordion, a modified washboard, electric guitar, bass and drums excites me and always dares me to stay in my seat. Turns out, I’m not the only one.
Passing through the neo-gothic arched doors into the sanctuary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral for the Zydeco Mass and Celebration recently, I could not believe my eyes. Fat Tuesday elation burst forth in feathers, sequins, sparkle beads and technicolor masks and costumes adorning a huge crowd of festive church revelers. Vibrant purples, emerald greens and dazzling yellows enlivened the church’s monochromatic marble interior. Theo and the Zydeco Patrol band’s mysterious, masked lead singer, a tattooed washboard strummer, and the other band members stood silent front and center where the choir is at home on Sundays. Just as we entered, they exploded into sound!
Instantly, the aisles filled with enthusiastic dancers and prancers. The Very Reverend Dean (a very hip forty-something female), the deacons, the guest preacher (movie-star handsome like Brad Pitt), and the rest of the officiants were decked out, dancing Congo-line style and swinging the incense in tune to the rocking beat of Zydeco. “When the Saints Come Marching In,” "Don't Mess With My Toot Toot," and “Amazing Grace” erupted with bluesy, syncopated beats from the accordion-driven band filling the aisles with gleeful dancers. I was compelled to move! We even bounced our way up and down the aisles, beads flying and feathers flouncing, first to the offering baskets and then to Communion, one line for regular and one for gluten free wafers.
The party continued with a reception where we dined on black beans, rice, chicken, shrimp, pecan bars and delicious foods of various cultures, I couldn’t take my eyes off a beautiful dancer who moved like he owned the dance floor, not festooned like the crowd, but rather wearing tailored jeans, a red shirt and suspenders.
Apparently, he noticed my admiring glances. When he escorted his partner off the floor, Carl, sturdy-bodied, handsome and short, glided across the floor to me.
“Would you like to dance?”
The thought was ridiculous to me, a foot taller and a decade older. He gently coerced me. “This is the cha-cha-cha, very easy.”
And so we began. His strength amazed me; his strong hold supported me as if I were a fragile Martini glass. He moved with the grace of a gazelle. I had no idea what music was playing until Carl told me “Manny Cepeda’s Grammy-award winning Salsa band.”
I concentrated so hard. I couldn’t believe how nervous I felt and how clumsy I’m sure I appeared as I counted a loud, “one, one-two-three; one, one-two-three…”
As our dance finished, I bumbled a compliment about Carl’s dancing once more.
“I have taught dancing for twelve years,” he murmured softly.
Long time since I have danced in a man’s arms. And never in the aisles of a cathedral.