In one of the stranger turns of events in my life, I am the leader of a Mardi Gras dance team. Did not see that one coming.
I don’t have any serious dance training. I was swiftly weeded out of ballet class as a girl because I hadn’t yet made friends, or at least an alliance, with pain. Instead, I stuck with piano studies and sloth, gradually ceasing all non-obligatory physical activity in favor of hours at the keyboard or in front of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
Leave it to New Orleans — and Carnival, per tradition — to flip my old persona inside out.
We’re called the Star-Steppin’ Cosmonaughties, and 2013 marks our second official year of operation. We’ll be marching in the Krewe of Pygmalion parade at 6:45 p.m. Saturday along the Uptown route, as well as the Fat Tuesday parade of Krewe de Lune, our co-conspirators in Mardi Gras merry-making.
Five years ago, my now-husband, a couple friends and I founded Krewe de Lune. We were inspired by the plethora of DIY groups that make Mardi Gras Day truly magical — as in, not Rex or Zulu but the likes of the Northside Skull and Bones Gang, the Society of St. Anne, Krewe du Jieux and countless others that emerge miraculously and pepper the spectacle of Carnival Day.
After experiencing the typical bounce-around, see-this-see-that Mardi Gras Day many times, we wanted to go to the next level of organized chaos. Our annual blowout, the Space Ball (held the Friday before Fat Tuesday), has outgrown any house we’ve tried to put it in and, this year, will occupy the Healing Center. Our Carnival Day parade, which started out as a ragtag mass of us pushing a grocery cart full of booze and ice with a set of speakers, now boasts two hand-pushed floats — the Mothership and the Moon Rover — and a grand costume theme.
Our krewe was and is fueled by pure Carnival spirit, that air of wild, try-anything-once liberty that can lead you to absurd bliss (watching the sun rise in full costume on the levee!) or the aftermath of poor decisions (waking up on a stranger’s couch with your keys, phone and/or wallet missing).
That same attitude gave me the chutzpah to try my hand at choreography when, three years ago, some folks suggested we put together a dance team two weeks before Mardi Gras Day. I’d been dancing recreationally for several years, most recently focusing on hip-hop, so I inadvertently fooled everyone into thinking I knew what I was doing.
One routine I pieced together myself on a Saturday afternoon — one of those freakishly sunny and beautiful late January / early February days — as a group of guys from the krewe hammered and drilled together the Mothership, our first float. The other routine was choreographed by committee in Clay Park in Irish Channel, all seven or eight of us tossing out moves and stitching them together to Mark Ronson’s “Bang Bang Bang.”
After we ran through the whole thing to music for the first time, we smiled and congratulated one another. A trio of little girls on bikes had been watching us at a slight distance, and my friend Sarah asked how we looked. One of them wobbled her hand to say, “so-so”; the other two giggled and shook their heads. We didn’t care. We were a dance team!
We made our debut on the streets of the Marigny / French Quarter Mardi Gras Day 2011. No coordinated costumes for us; just six girls and two dudes, backed by the rest of our krewe, storming Royal Street with sass.
For Carnival 2012, the dance team graduated to the big(ger) leagues. We quadrupled our membership, decided on our Star-Steppin’ name (after two weeks of nerdy wordsmithing and brainstorming), picked official team colors (blue, black and silver) and booked our first big parade with the Krewe of Pygmalion.
My confidence in choreographing grew stronger, and we kicked off our training season months in advance, in October. We went all in. Krewe de Lune started a support team to provide security and sustenance during the big parade, called the Satellites (get it?). I became intimately familiar with online purveyors of colorful dancewear, so much so that I had favorite models about whom I constructed elaborate back stories.
In the weeks leading up to our big-parade debut, I nearly had a nervous breakdown from the stress — the real stress of managing a big group of people and a big event, the unnecessary stress of a type-A person in an extracurricular leadership role, and the meta-stress of suddenly realizing, “Hold up: I’ve spent countless hours of the past four months doing this … elaborate game of make-believe! I could have been writing a tidy collection of short stories! I could have gotten into the New Yorker! WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE???”
My parents seemed to be asking that question as well. Each time I told them about the Cosmonaughties’s growing plans, I was met with a pause and then some version of, “… sounds good, Mol.”
I know what “sounds good” means coming from a parent. “Sounds good” means “I’m not sure how to respond to all this but I don’t want to outwardly judge you, so I’m just gonna say this and get off the phone.”
There was only one way to get them to understand: Make them one (two) of us. I begged them to come up from Lafayette and drive the truck in the Pygmalion parade, and after a bit of cajoling, they agreed.
My recollection of the first parade is a blur: Scrambling to get everyone’s light-up shoelaces working, since I hadn’t realized they needed a screwdriver and some manual labor to set up … rounding that first corner from Napoleon onto St. Charles and getting a huge roar of crowd adoration as we busted out our first routine … realizing with a sense of dread that some of our routines were too long and were separating us too much from the float in front of us, meaning that we’d be running to catch up way more than I’d imagined … thanking the Carnival gods for the existence of Jell-O shots, 300 of which our Satellites had prepared for the occasion … realizing that I was living out a dream I’d secretly harbored since I first saw the Camel Toe Lady Steppers … no longer being able to wiggle my fingers because of the 30-degree weather that night … watching my mom dance along with us as she took photos … and reaching the end of the parade more exhausted than I’d ever felt in my life.
This year, the Cosmonaughties are bigger than ever. We’ve got 35 fine ladies, and four new routines. We’ve upped our performances this year. We like to think we set ourselves apart by taking what we’ve got, working hard and doing everything full-out. We still don’t have a prescribed uniform, because we’d rather give everyone a chance to get creative and take ownership of their own look within our costume guidelines.
Because aside from the fun and partying, that’s what the whole thing — Cosmonaughties, Krewe de Lune, Mardi Gras — is about: being creative, putting in some effort to put on a spectacle, and owning it.
Check out the Star-Steppin’ Cosmonaughties and Krewe de Lune on Facebook.
Molly Reid, a journalist and former writer for The Times-Picayune, submitted this article to NolaVie.