Learning to move to the Cajun, zydeco beat

CHANK a CHANK a CHANK

The Cajun-Zydeco Festival will have everyone on their feet, two-stepping their way across the dance floor at Louis Armstrong Park this weekend. With free dance lessons all throughout the festival at the front of the stage, by the weekend’s end, everyone will be moving to the sounds of southwest Louisiana.

“It’s that ‘chank-a-chank’ rhythm. Once you feel it, you can’t help yourself,” said Scott Aiges, director of programs, marketing and communication at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation.

“There are a lot of people who come to the festival but may feel a little bit intimidated because they’re not quite up to speed on the dance moves. We want to help them feel comfortable — and to be able to enjoy the fun of swinging a partner around on the dance floor,” Aiges said.

Aiges enlisted the help of Cajun and zydeco dance instructors Glenn Laigast and Lori Bertaut to show people how easy it can be. Having taught at festivals from the Atlantic to the Pacific coastlines, Bertaut and Laigast know exactly how to get people moving.

In the 30-minute breaks between bands, Bertaut and Laigast will be at the front of the stage teaching the basics.

“At festivals, what we do is we line the ladies up behind Lori and the men behind me. We teach two basic steps, the inside turn and the outside turn, so when the band comes on, they can get out there and dance,” Laigast said.

The lessons don’t end there. When the bands are playing, Laigast, Bertaut and their students will wander around and help anyone who is having trouble getting the basics or those who want to kick it up a notch and add more steps.

Cajun and zydeco dancing is deeply ingrained in the southwest Louisiana culture, passed from one generation to the next.

“I learned my Cajun dancing from my mother and my New Orleans dancing from my father,” Laigast said.

It is the romance of the Cajun jitterbug that really moves Laigast.

“It is a sensuous dance,” he said. “You’re always in contact with your partner.”

Bertaut, on the other hand, comes from a ballroom dancing background and loves to let loose with zydeco dancing.

“It is more upbeat and faster,” Bertaut said. “When you get off the dance floor ... you are out of breath.”

For all those new to Cajun and zydeco dancing, Aiges offers some helpful advice.

“Pretend you have a thumb tack in the heel of your left foot, so you can’t step on it,” he said. “That’ll keep you on the ball of your foot, which is helpful to get into the rhythm.”