Andrew Hyde Relives His Twinkletoed Escape From The Dancefloor In Louisiana!
I don’t dance. Don’t ask me, don’t be offended if I say no.
What’s so difficult about that?
It’s true that I have danced on several occasions. One time The Bushwhackers played at the Colac Recreation Centre, and blinded by teenage love I trotted around, up and down, swinging the left foot in and out.
The next day, and for two weeks after that, I couldn’t walk, play footy or ride my bike.
That’s one big black mark against dancing!
Another time I was hunted down like a fugitive and forced to squire a young maiden to the Senior Students Ball. No matter where I ran, she or her friends tracked me down and applied the, ‘But you have to,’ pressure like a steam train. They wouldn’t listen to my protests, ‘I can’t dance, I hate dancing, don’t make me fucking dance.’
They grinned at me through pimples and braces, ‘But there’s lessons.’
Lessons? My God, they clashed with footy training, new episodes of ‘Cop Shop,’ evening meals with the family. Can’t make it, can’t do it.
Nope. Tempted by the smiles and scared by the anger of the pack, I gave in and danced. Pride of Erin, Evening Three Step and Mexican Hat Dance. Clammy hands, tipsy mothers and cold, hard stares from massive fathers. Never again!
But no! The last time was when I was coerced into being best man at a mate’s wedding. Didn’t see dancing coming this time. Just had to get suited up (almost as bad as dancing), make a few speeches, drink a heap of piss and grab a pizza before sleeping in the back of my car down by the lake.
Bridal waltz? What the? How’s that go? I gotta dance? Yer joking me!
Even captured on camera, somewhere.
But that was it. Dancing history over. Been there, danced that. Done and dusted. From now on my twinkling shoes would be packed away. No more need for suits, can chuck the cummerbund out, hide the photos away for the occasional sneaky look and laugh.
Whenever the local debs came around I’d tut tut and say, ‘how archaic, how sexist. What a waste of money, time and effort.’ As my U-18s footy coach had said, ‘There’s better places to be with girls and better things to do with them!’
Well that was just fantasy too.
I tell a lie. There was one other time I was moved to dance. Actually invented one. I called it the ‘Sergeant Small Dance’ and I put the tricky moves together one boozy night at the Pier Hotel in Frankston in the late1980s.
Weddings Parties Anything were all the rage and my mates and I followed them all over the country. Portland, Tathra, Sydney, The Central Club in Richmond, even a gig in London. We were there when they backed Stevie Ray Vaughan at Festival Hall in Melbourne and when they backed B.B King and U2 at the Tennis Centre.
So, on this fateful night as they rollicked into Tex Morton’s ‘Sergeant Small’ I decided that jumping around, spilling my beer and smashing into my mates wasn’t enough.
I invented a dance.
As Mick Thomas crashed his way into the chorus, I went into action. He bellowed, ‘I wish that I was 16 stone and only seven foot tall!’
I thrust my hands and arms in front of me at shoulder level and drew them down to my hips indicating a massive beer gut, then I leapt in the air throwing my hands above me to show how tall I was.
Mick, oblivious to my maniacal thrustings and leapings, continued, ‘I’d go back to Western Queensland and beat up Sargeant Small!’
And to complete my dance routine I’d ball my hands into fists and punch the air with wild abandon.
That was about it.
It actually caught on for awhile, but as the Weddoes’ legend grew and the crowds amassed, the antics of the audience became more and more outrageous. Whitebait was tossed through the air, paper aeroplanes wafted about and the band were always ready to duck the showers of ten cent pieces that were chucked at them during ‘Ticket in Tatts.’
So, despite being forced to dance on a couple of occasions, mostly after being threatened by marauding packs of women, and even taking credit for designing an elaborate dance for one of Melbourne’s greatest bands, by my thirties I thought my dancing days were over.
I had developed a startling range of excuses. Bad backs, dodgy ankles, patella tendonitis. I had ‘em all. All the time in fact. Wouldn’t be able to open the bowling for Otway on Saturday if I stuff up my knees tonight.
I was unfailingly polite when approached by women with that come-dance-with-me look in their eyes, ‘Thanks but no thanks. I’m flattered that you asked me. Gotta sore knee. Just took medication for the back spasms. Oh look, Austin is free, he’s a great dancer. Sorry time to go, my taxi’s here.’
And it worked. Sat through some excruciating fund raising evenings in country halls. But didn’t dance, ‘Sorry, don’t like it. Nah, back’s still bad. Gotta play footy in the morning.’
I checked out the beer. Volunteered to be bouncer. Had to change a tire. Heated up the sausage rolls. Read the names on the Beech Forest Great War Honour Board. ‘Gotta get going, early start tomorrow.’
And so it was. Andrew don’t dance. Don’t have to, don’t like it. Don’t ask me.
But this year I visited Louisiana. Cajun country. Spiritual home of the accordion, the fiddle, gumbo, crawfish and Cajun style DANCING.
What on earth was I thinking. And I was with people I didn’t know. People who didn’t understand my ‘don’t dance’ thing. Single women, married women, old women, young women and not enough good looking guys!
Didn’t stand a chance really.
I suddenly realised I was going to be in trouble when Sara-from-Brighton came sashaying across the floor at B.B King’s club on Beale Street, Memphis. She was a little pissed and she was doing this dancy dancy, pointy pointy thing, and she was pointing at Brian and me.
I looked down at my beer. Brian looked away.
But Sara kept coming. Pointing at us. Doing the dance thing. It was me or Brian for sure. I tried to start up an animated conversation with Al-from-Queensland but he was already talking to someone else. I hoped that Brian would cave in.
But no, Brian looked Sara straight in the eye and said, ‘Sorry, but I have a crook knee.’
The bastard, he was using my material! I went for the say-no-and-hope method, ‘Sorry Sara, gotta get going soon.’
Bloody liar, I was there for the duration, but I thought if she drank enough (and she did) that she’d forget (unlikely).
She was distracted by the younger, and much better looking, Pat. Phew, crisis averted.
‘I really do have a crook knee,’ Brian confided to me as Sara waltzed away, ‘But I bloody hate dancing too.’
‘Yeah yeah,’ I thought as I continued in my quest to find an American beer worth drinking. That search would prove to be as futile as trying to avoid dancing.
The warning signs came thick and fast in New Orleans when we dined at ‘Napoleons’ in the French Quarter. Dinner was excellent, the drinks were cold and the company was grand. Then this excitable American lady started bossing us around. It was like being back at school. We were going to learn how to dance ‘Cajun Style.’
Ripper! I slunk away. Hid on the balcony for a few minutes cradling my beer. Spent some quality time on my own imagining the Mardi Gras procession snaking through the streets. But no, the indomitable Nancy Covey found me there. ‘Just gotta go to the dunny,’ I mumbled as an excuse. She looked dumbfounded by this language/cultural gap, ‘Come on, we all have to learn how to swirl.’
‘Go and swirl love, have some fun,’ I thought as I snuck off to the bathroom.
It didn’t end there. I found the affable Elsie and Nerida scoffing down unfinished drinks in the dining room. ‘Fucking hate dancing,’ explained Elsie derisively.
This seemed perfect. Women who hated dancing, but loved drinking. Aussies, thousands of miles from home, in a foreign land. Bonding. Maybe they’d want to talk about footy or the cricket World Cup or how shit the beer was. The evening was turning around my way.
But no, Nancy came swirling through again. She must have been forewarned about us and she was keen to get us doing it Cajun Style. ‘Come on guys,’ she pleaded, ‘The dancing tutors will be hurt if you don’t at least try.’
Ah, the blackmail, the threats. Never mind, I could handle this. I slipped into the back of the ballroom and hid behind the rest of the Australians who were crowded together attempting to be invisible. Trying to be anonymous. Shadows.
I think I caught Brian dancing, but my memory is a little vague. A few drinks became a lot, a trip to the Howlin’ Wolf Club to see Littlefeat, then countless bourbons at Jimmy White’s corner bar have blurred the finer details of the evening.
But I didn’t dance. No swirling for me!
In the days to come I tramped around the New Orleans Jazz Festival checking out some amazing bands, new and old, funky, wild and traditional. There was a bit of dancing going on at the outside stages, but thankfully Security held things in check in the inside venues.
Who would even think of dancing when Sonny Landreth was igniting his stinging slide guitar? Or when Richie Havens was floating away before our eyes? There wasn’t room to even wiggle during the New Orleans Social Club’s funky set and dancing seemed completely inappropriate when rooted to the spot by Gillian Welch’s mesmerising performance.
I might have wiggled my hips just a little during the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s fun-filled hour, but the dancing for all of us was being done on the right of stage by the whirling dervish, Beatle Bob.
Bob popped up again during Terrance Simien’s rocking zydeco performance. And if you thought I was about to launch into the ‘Sergeant Small’ routine, well that was just me jumping to grab the cheap jewellery he was flinging into the crowd.
But avoiding the old shuffle was easy out at the Fairgrounds. It was when we went on Nancy Covey’s Cajun Tour that the pressure mounted again. Apparently dancing is an integral part of the Cajun culture. Again this seemed fanciful to me, another example of a female plot. But my dancing antenna were on high alert.
Night one in Cajun Country we travelled to Eunice, home of all things Cajun. That night we were entertained at Geno Delafose’s ranch. The BBQ was excellent, the beers were crappy but cold and the locals were warm and welcoming. Geno was a lovely fellow and he greeted us as old friends. His mother, Joanne, the children and grandchildren, Geno’s neighbours and our fellow travellers all made for excellent company.
Geno is a zydeco musician and after dinner he and his band set up on a flat bed truck and played us a joyfilled, soulful set. I loved it. A big yellow moon was rising above the ricefields of rural Louisiana and I wondered then, as I did many other times on the trip, how on earth I had arrived at this place.
But then the dancing started. I hung back, the usual first step of avoidance. I became chummy with an elderly librarian from California. We talked books and teaching and shared a glass of red. She couldn’t dance as she was very ill, and me, well she needed some company didn’t she?
But Nancy, whom I now discovered was Richard Thompson’s wife, wasn’t to be deterred by my noble gesture in comforting the ill. No way, it was, ‘Come on Andrew, I want to dance with you. I need a partner, EVERYBODY has to have a go.’
‘No they bloody don’t,’ I thought. ‘Thanks, but no thanks,’ I muttered. But Nancy was not to be defeated. ‘Everybody is having a go, it’s fun.’
‘Go on Andrew,’ said my Californian. Arrgh, the female conspiracy! They were moving into the pack approach. ‘My knees, my back, my ankles!’ I cried.
‘Even Brian is dancing,’ countered Nancy.
Bloody hell I thought, even our leader with the bad knee has caved in.
So I pulled out the last resort tactic. Obviously there was no taxi on its way, no other single guys were untaken.
‘I’m sorry Nancy, but I don’t dance. It’s nothing personal, but I am having a good time and if I dance I won’t. Please don’t push me to do it. Please.’
Pathetic isn’t it? But it worked. Off she swirled, the lively wife of the rock star. Off to cavort with another hapless male.
Later that night as we boarded the bus, Nancy took me aside and patted my arm affectionately and whispered to me, ‘It’s alright, Andrew, it’s alright. You need to look after the little man inside.’
I think she was genuinely concerned for my wellbeing. Strange.
Tougher still was when the lovely Helen-from-Seddon bailed me up where I was hiding in the stables. I was busy patting horses’ noses and talking to the elderly ranch foreman. Checking out the tools and ropes hanging on the walls. Smelling the straw and the grease and the shit. Feeling like somehow I was back home again.
‘Come on Andrew, one dance for me,’ she implored. Now, this was getting serious. Nancy I could knock back because she was American and didn’t really understand, but Helen was from Melbourne and I had already struck up a bond with her and her husband Bernard as we motored down Highway 61.
I tried humour, ‘But you barrack for Geelong!’ and I tried the Nancy trick, ‘I won’t enjoy it, I hate it, leave me alone.’
She chided me, ‘I bet you would dance with Alex if she asked.’
Alex was the willowy blonde-from-Portarlington. ‘Who is Alex? No way,’ I said, ‘I don’t dance with anyone.’
I gave her the look. The look that said something terrible had happened long ago and it wasn’t worth pursuing, digging up.
Helen looked perplexed at this, but gave me a way out, ‘One dance, before we finish the trip, just one time, OK?’
That would do for now.
What are the odds? In the heart of Cajun country. With the accordion squawking, the washboards clacking and every member of the tour dancing. Just me and the sick lady from L.A. not jigging about.
Pretty hard to get out of that one, but I did.
Cos, Andrew Don’t Dance!
The next day we went on a tour of the historic Eunice radio station, KBON 101.1fm. Whilst we were waiting for Brian and Nancy to be interviewed we were joined by a group of musicians who had arrived to record a promo.
The group all belonged to the same family. Two sisters, a younger brother on fiddle and a three year old brother as well.
They struck up a Cajun waltz extolling the virtues of Christianity and gravy, rice and beans. One of the sisters tried to get the little toddler to dance. He immediately started crying inconsolably and hid behind his other sister.
I looked across at Helen. ‘See, what I mean,’ I mouthed. I gave the little fellow a grin and the thumbs up, ‘I’m on your side mate.’
Good luck little man.
Andrew Hyde Relives His Twinkletoed Escape From The Dancefloor In Louisiana!