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Crescent City Culture: Open eyes, open ears, open minds

With so many festivals on the calendar, kids start going to — and dancing at — these cultural feasts at an early age in New Orleans.

Young New Orleans dance students are more open – to new steps, movements, styles – than their peers in other parts of the country. I’ve heard this more than once recently from big names in the dance world, while doing some writing for the New Orleans Ballet Association.

The latest to mention this trait was Drew Jacoby, co-artistic director of Jacoby & Pronk. “They showed no fear,” she said of the students in her October master class at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. (Jacoby is one of six internationally acclaimed dancers who will perform Nov. 11 and 12 at NOCCA’s Freda Lupin Memorial Hall, in a co-presentation of the New Orleans Ballet Association and the NOCCA Institute.)

Jacoby speculated that this openness might be connected to the many kinds of music one finds in New Orleans.

She’s on the right track, I think, but she hasn’t gone down it far enough. I say it’s more than music; it’s all the performing arts, all the visual arts, all the food – all the things that can be found here in a wide variety.

Plus, you never have far to go to dip into this cultural feast. If it’s a weekend, there must be a festival, if not in town, at least within driving distance. (Coming up Nov. 5 and 6 is Swamp Fest at Audubon Zoo,; Nov. 5 brings Bayou Bacchanal, a Caribbean festival at Lafayette Square,; and the Mirliton Festival at Markey Park, .)

And it’s a feast for all age groups. An Oct. 30 Times-Picayune article on the Voodoo Music Experience was headlined: “Crowd at Voodoo keeps getting younger and younger, as the stroller set joins in.” Like many local fests, Voodoo featured an area especially for kids.

In her “Family Affairs” TP column last fall, Maria Montoya wrote: “My son, Press, isn’t walking yet, but he’s already mastered festival dancing. After inhaling two crab cakes and a mighty portion of crawfish bread at the New Orleans Seafood Festival in Lafayette Square, Press found his groove as Latin jazz ensemble Vivaz played for the crowd.”

If that’s the way you learn to dance, it has to make you open to new steps – in more ways than one. And that’s a very good thing.

Mary Lou Atkinson offers observations on the art of living in New Orleans whenever the spirit moves her, for NolaVie.



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