Radio piece engineered and produced by Thomas Walsh
Playing division-1 college volleyball and stepping in a Mardi Gras dance krewe are more similar than you might think.
“Knowing how to be on a team and how to get along with different people, and putting the goal first – which is finishing the parade and putting on a good show for the world – it’s definitely like playing sports at the highest level,” said Stephanie Stromath, former Green Wave volleyball player and current member of the Star-Steppin’ Cosmonaughties.
Also, volleyball is very footwork oriented, “and that’s the same with dance,” said Stromath. “You’ve got to have your feet right, you’ve got to be light on your feet, and the conditioning aspect is big, because the parade is six miles and we are going all-out, dancing the entire time.”
And when you’re in the fifth of those six miles, it’s late and cold, and the parade has stopped, that’s when Stromath and the other Cosmonaughties feed off the energy of the crowd. The key, she said, is “finding somebody who’s cheering for you, and even if they’re cheering for somebody five rows behind you, just imagine that they’re cheering for you and you’re the only person that matters out there.”
Stromath first saw the Cosmonaughties in action during Pygmalion in 2012. She recognized a male friend of hers working security and clearing the parade route for this “group of insane dancers, and they looked like they were having so much fun,” she said. “I had no idea how he had gotten involved with it, but I just knew I had to follow up, figure out what it was, and I just knew that that was what I wanted to do.
“I wanted to be part of Mardi Gras instead of just sitting on the sidewalk side trying to get some beads,” Stromath added.
So the California native emailed her friend – who was part of the Cosmonaughties security team known as the ‘Satellites’ – to find out more, and she ended up joining soon after.
The Cosmonaughties don’t have tryouts; it’s open enrollment. “Whoever is interested,” said Stromath. “We just invite them to come along and try our dances. We’re commitment based, so you have to show up to practices.”
The practice schedule begins in October each year, with the group getting together on Sunday afternoons to start learning the dances and getting some conditioning work in. “As we get closer to the season we start offering practices during the week so you can fine-tune the dances that we’re learning,” Stromath said.
Starting so early also allows time to perfect one’s costume, whatever that may be. ‘ “We don’t have a set costume,” said Stromath. “We invite all of our members to wear whatever they feel comfortable in, whether it’s a turtleneck or a bustier. We’re just about celebrating each other, celebrating the traditions of Mardi Gras, being confident and having fun.”
The whole idea of a Star-stepping Cosmonaughty, Stromath added, is “someone who’s sassy and confident and is maybe a little weird and possibly an alien. So when we get set up down on Tchoupitoulas, when we’re putting the final touches on our makeup and on our hair and we’re getting photos together, we’re smiling but we’re also getting into that vibe. So definitely you have to prepare and become a character – a sassy space alien.”
In those pre-parade moments, when other dance teams have mustered along with the high school bands, “the energy is just electric,” said Stromath. “The bands are going crazy, they’re going back and forth, it’s so much fun to see how the other dance teams are costumed, what their music is going to be and how they’re pre-partying.”
As for competition between dance teams, “it’s more about seeing everybody’s dance moves and just being really impressed by the talent that’s out there,” Stromath said. “Most of these women are working full time jobs, are moms, are in school, and they’re able to put a lot of effort into costuming and performing.”
It was a different story when it came to the men a few years back, Stromath recalled, when the Cosmonaughties found themselves lined up on Jefferson Avenue preparing for the Mystic Krewe of Nyx, and the 610 Stompers happened to be lined up across the street.
“We decided to put up our music pretty loud and get them going to do a dance off, so we did a Michael Jackson dance-off,” said Stromath. “It was the most insane memory of that year of Mardi Gras, going back and forth in the middle of the street.”
You can catch the Cosmonaughties in two parades this year – Pygmalion on Saturday, January 30th, and then the Mystic Krewe of Nyx on Wednesday, February 3rd. You can also celebrate with them on Fat Tuesday in an informal parade through the Marigny and French Quarter with their counterpart organization, Krewe de Lune.
Krewe de Lune also hosts one of the biggest parties (for krewe members and the public) of the carnival season with their flagship event, the Spaceball, happening on Friday, February 5th at the Carver Theater.
And the sisterhood provided by the group extends beyond carnival season. Stromath said she joined the Cosmonaughties – and eventually Krewe de Lune, knowing just her one friend in the Satellites. “Now I’ve got almost a hundred friends,” she said. “That’s been the biggest perk of joining the Cosmonaughties is having a built in group of friends that are interested in the same things.”
To learn more, visit the Star-Steppin’ Cosmonaughties’ Facebook page.