Dancing in the Streets

Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs of New Orleans

Avenue Steppers Marching Club's first annual parade (6-Jun-82) by Michael P. SmithThe Historic New Orleans Collection

“It’s always something behind It. It ain’t nothing
you just do.” —Linda Tapp Porter, Lady Buckjumpers

With origins in Black mutual aid societies founded to support African Americans and Afro-Creoles at a time when they were denied many social services, social aid and pleasure clubs and their parades have become one of the city’s defining cultural practices. Full of color and artistry, music and footwork, and friends and neighbors, the parades provide a weekly physical and symbolic gathering place for Black history and expression.

Adrian “Coach Teedy” Gaddies (center) and Keith Radcliffe (left) at Sudan parade (10-Nov-19) by MJ MastrogiovanniThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Bernard Robertson, Sudan

Dancing in the street, that’s what we do. But, what does it mean to me? After six days of eight hours a day, eight hours a day, working to have that one little day, to where it’s those little four hours where I can hear some nice music and express myself through dancing; it means a lot.

“Dancing in the street” is a real nice little saying. I think I heard that somewhere. But that would be a nice little second line club name. “Dancing in the Street.” It sounds like, “Let’s go have some fun. Let’s enjoy this day. Let’s thank the Lord that we are alive.”

Perseverance Hall (Jun-42) by Jack Beach (printer)The Historic New Orleans Collection

Early History

Mutual aid, benevolent, and fraternal organizations have existed across racial and ethnic lines in the city as far back as the late 18th century. The Perseverance Benevolent and Mutual Aid Association was founded in 1783, making it the oldest known membership-based Black aid association in New Orleans. 

Société des Jeunes-Amis ledger page (May 1890) by Societé des Jeunes-AmisThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Throughout the 19th century, membership in a mutual aid society or benevolent association was especially sought after in a city where social services were sparse. Many Black New Orleanians relied on membership in a benevolent organization to help pay for doctors, medicine, and funeral arrangements for members and their families. Most societies also organized annual parades and holiday festivities complete with music.

Woods Directory: Being a Colored Business, Professional and Trades Directory of New Orleans, Louisiana pages 18-19The Historic New Orleans Collection

After emancipation, with the influx of formerly enslaved people into New Orleans, the number of Black mutual aid societies exploded. By the turn of the century, there were more than 200 benevolent associations and social clubs organized by people of color throughout the city; more than half of the Black population belonged to one or more.

Longshoremen's Protective Union Benevolent Association badge (between 1890 and 1920) by Allied PrintingThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Fred Johnson, Black Men of Labor, speaking to Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project

FJ: I—it was a long time before, when the Labor Day parade—I never got to witness the Labor Day parade, but I heard stories of it verbally, and orally, but I never got to witness it. Subsequent to that, I don't remember any parade. I think there were a lot of Labor Day picnics, by different unions. They would give a picnic, but they wouldn't give a parade. But the longshoremen would give a parade.

RB: Ok.

FJ: And they wouldn’t have parade clothes on; they’d wear their work uniform. Because they had these jackets, and the bib overalls, and they’d bring the tool they worked with. If they was doing cotton, they had this hook, they’d bring their hook with them. They had something else, looked like a big pair of scissors, they grabbed stuff with. Just different stuff they used. And they’d start one place, and there'd be hundreds of them, from what I was told. But I never got to witness it.

Young Men Olympian Jr. Benevolent Association funeral (ca. 1965) by Jules CahnThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Norman Dixon Jr., Young Men Olympian Jr. (part 1)

It was at least six years that the organization was formed before the second line was even formed. When that came out of the musicians who was in the organization. As they died and passed on and went on to glory, other musicians would want to form a parade and march them down to the cemetery. And as with everything else, other members, who wasn’t actually musicians, wanted the same thing.

So the organization passed it where every member that died would have a funeral procession, with a band. And that’s basically how parading, or musicians even, became a part of the Young Men Olympics.

Handbill commemorating the 72nd anniversary of the Young Men Olympian Jr. Benevolent Association (1957) by Young Men Olympian Jr. Benevolent AssociationThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Norman Dixon Jr., Young Men Olympian Jr. (part 2)

The good thing is, years went past, and nobody seemed to die.

So they wasn’t having a reason to have a parade until some of the members came together and brought it in front of the board that they actually have a annual parade that just celebrate no one dying and to celebrate anniversaries.

Second liners dancing on sidewalk (ca. 1951) by Bernard M. SteinauThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Jazz Henry, Footwerk Family

These moves that we doing today, is recycled. Like, these people been doing these moves. My grandpa could do a split. I can’t even do a split. And he’s 70 years old! So you know, like, this stuff is not new. We just made it modern. Like, you know, we switched it up, gave it a little spice, funked it up a little bit, and you know, that’s what it is. But it’s not a competition. Like you said, it’s about having fun and doing what you want to do.

Original Square Deal Boys Social and Pleasure Club parade (14-Sep-52) by John BernardThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Bernard Robertson, Sudan

Their accessories was, it just seems to like, make it glow. To see that person holding a basket in his hand, or a fan, or a umbrella, it just seems to make the whole parade much better. It adds to the parade. You already know he’s gonna look nice with his clothes on. No matter what color he choose, it’s gonna look nice.

When it came down to accessories, that’s what made your eyes buck. That’s what made you like, ball up your toes, because, “Who made that? Man, look at what he got in his hand! Look at that streamer he has on.” Back then, the streamers was made with two, three colors. The basket made of cardboard, canvas, coat hanger, silk— silk material—plastic flowers—what they called, what Indians used as, give me a second—[maribo ]. Those things there that you would take and make into the shape of something and then put it together and come on out that door, that matches your pants and your shoes, was just excellent to look at. It was surprising. “Man, look at what George have on, man! Look at—who did that? Who made that?”

Chosen Few Brass Band in front of the Merry-Go-Round Social and Aid Club building, 8815 Hickory Street (ca. 1975) by Jules CahnThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Bernard Robertson, Sudan, speaking to Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 1)

BR: My best tuba player was tuba—Anthony “Tuba Fat.” Now, was he the best of the best of the best? To me, yeah.

RB: Why did you like him so much?

BR: It was because of the way he kept a beat. The way he blowed, and he blowed it loud. And I say loud man, you can hear it. He didn’t just blow it hard, it was like he had a bird coming out of it. The way he—and I danced to him. They way—he made me vibrate. I could hear him.

Bernard Robertson, Sudan, speaking to Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 2)

So, me, I’m Bernard Robertson. I can’t dance—I don’t dance to the whole band.

I pick a instrument off each record, each song, and I dance to that instrument. It could be the tuba, it could be the trombone, it could be—I love a saxophone. It could be the snare drum.

And on each one of the records, if I pick that beat, the whole record I’m going to dance to that beat. And Tuba was like, so sweet, he’d make you look so nice no matter what you doing. You could be off beat but if you dancing to his beat, you getting down.

Restaurant Treme Lounge (1978) by Jules CahnThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Sean Martin, Treme Sidewalk Steppers, speaking to Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 1)

SM: Say, like, on Governor Nicholls, where we were born and raised, if you go to the corner, there’s Sam’s Cozy Corner. If you go around the corner to Ursulines and Robertson, there was Ruth’s Cozy Corner. And across the street was the pool hall. Then you go to Robertson and St. Philip, was the Caldonia Bar and Lounge. You know? And then if you cross further over about half a block was the Candlelight Bar and Lounge. And you come back to St. Philip and you go down to Treme, no not Treme . . . yes . . .Marais. No, it’s Treme and St. Philip with the Three Brothers Bar and Lounge. So we had, we were surrounded, about, let me see, five or six, like, local lounges and bars that was in the area.

Sean Martin, Treme Sidewalk Steppers, speaking to Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 2)

RB: And they, didn’t most of them have live music at the time?
SM: Every— I know the Caldonia was very known for live music. I mean, like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Treme Brass Band, the Olympia Brass Band was played. . . . I mean, they play in bars, but in Treme . . . I’m serious, this is not nothing you could make up. You can be at home, one, two, three, or four o’clock in the morning, and you might hear a band playing, coming up your street. And it was crazy because how you would tell your children, “Go to sleep and don’t wake up”? We was allowed to wake up and come to the screen door, even go on the porch, if we were got up that time the morning and sit out there and watch the band pass, and people dancing up in the street. And like I said, it was for no reason. It could be any type of celebration.

Lois Nelson (second in line) and Anne Spurlock (fourth in line) dance with their club members, Money Wasters parade (1978) by Jules CahnThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Lois Nelson, Money Wasters

It happened, we all like, we all went to second line, and we all, we dance on the street. So, during that time women couldn’t parade on the street; they had to ride on the car.

So we [Nelson and Dr. Jarrett Johnson] went to the Money Wasters’ meeting on Derbigny and St. Philip, and we went to their meeting and told them we wanted to parade with them. They told us, “You, I’m not disrespecting you now, Doc , cause I’m telling you come back.” They came to us, they said, “You welfare bitches could come up with a band, then y’all could parade.” And we got that.

Avenue Steppers Marching Club's first annual parade (6-Jun-82) by Michael P. SmithThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Perry “Ice Bird” Franklin, Keep ’N It Real, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project

PF: Oh that’s the Pinstripe. Look at Mark. On the tuba. Tuba Mark. Now—

RB: Mark Smith?

PF: Yes, he stayed in the Magnolia with me.

RB: Oh, he did?

PF: Yes, two hallways over. Mark was dedicated to a horn from day one. This guy used to walk around the project. People were like, why? That’s how dedicated he was, playing his horn by his self. And people were so amazed at Mark. Man, Mark still playing horn. Playing for Wilson and everything. Tuba Mark.

RB: So he was one of the people you would hear when they were marching around, early in the morning?

PF: Yes, he was out there, dedicated to that horn. I mean, he was up almost late at night playing that horn, around the project.

Avenue Steppers Presents: Banner Day Celebration (5-Jun-83) by Avenue Steppers Marching ClubThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Angelina “Mrs. Divine” Sever, Divine Ladies“, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 1)

AS: I got a route sheet, and that was kind of hard, back when, you know, to find a route sheet. Because . . .

RB: Tell me your strategies.

AS: Well, when I first got into it, it was like, I just had to really had to get the feel of it. Um, you know, who would you talk to, to get a route sheet, or where they’re going. So a lot of it, it was, OK, they’re leaving this spot, and they’re going to the next spot. And that’s how we would do it. But as it got—as I got more involved into it, I would find the places where they would put the route sheets in different bars and different places, barbershops and different things like that.

Angelina “Mrs. Divine” Sever, Divine Ladies“, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 2)

AS: So I was able get one, and then I realized, you know, at the second lines, that they were giving out the route sheets, you know, so you would have [one]—

RB: For the next week.

AS: So you know, you catch a person, that’s parading, or even just their friends or what have you, and they’ll give you a route sheet. So then that way I was like OK, get a route sheet, and then I know where I’m going from stop to stop, for every week of the parades. And it’s mostly the parades uptown, or . . . they mostly follow the same route. And even the parades downtown, they mostly follow the same route. Might be in a different—they may be going up one block, down two blocks, but it’s mostly in the same area.

Sudan Social and Pleasure Club kneels in prayer for Archie Chapman (1986) by Michael P. SmithThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Bernard Robinson, Sudan (part 1)

Yeah, yeah. That’s a beautiful picture right there, that’s got to be ’85—’85, ’86. Archie Chapman, one of the founders. Archie brought me home in a little Volkswagen, you know; he said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Bernard.” I said, “Alright Archie, la-la-la.” Had to be near about ten-thirty, eleven o’clock. I said, “Alright bro, I’m going inside. You just make sure you be alright and I’ll see you tomorrow.” “Alright ’Nard, I gotta go DJ at the Spades,” which was on Saint Philip and Claiborne. “I gotta go DJ tonight!” I said, “Alright bro, holler at me in the morning.”. . .

I don’t know what happened. Before he went and DJ’ed or after he went and DJ’ed, he was sitting [clears throat] under a bridge, talking to a friend. And a young brother walked up to him and stuck a gun in his face. “Give it up.” I guess he said, “Give it up.” So the little lady that was with him said they would give it up. . . . So the dude looked at a chain he had on his neck and said, “Give me that, too.” Soon as Archie [clears throat] reached to get it, dude shot him point blank.

Bernard Robinson, Sudan (part 2)

So, I’m in the Seventh Ward, I got my little grand, my little, my little son, we going get a haircut. So, somebody stopped me and was, “Bernard, Bernard, you hear what happened?” I said, “No. What’s happening? What’s happening? Talk to me.” “Man, Archie got killed last night.”

I pulled over. You know they had they little phone booths on the wall, I’m on Annette and Villere, jump out the car, go into the store, go to the phone, I called his momma. “Yeah, that was Archie.”

His [unintelligible] right there. But that’s his funeral. And when I told you we put it down for him, we put it down. That was our club first death. We was hurting. We was real, real, real hurt, so. . . that’s Archie’s basket on top of his, on top of the hearse. That’s his basket.

Wanda Rouzan and Ernest Skipper, grand marshals, funeral for Blue Lu Barker (1998) by L. J. GoldsteinThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Fred Johnson, Black Men of Labor

Yeah it's, I mean it’s much more dignified and much more uniform when everybody decides to start off on the same foot. Because then, it’s in rhythm with the music, you know what I mean? Because in most cases, when you're doing that, you're in the middle of a dirge and, you know, that slows the tempo—the tempo of the music slows up, the pace, everything slows up so you can’t have everybody just doing anything.

And that’s one of the disciplines and beauty in it: it’s not the same thing all the time. Different music and different tempos create different responses, you know? Yeah, but that's—either we’re going to get the body, or the body is behind; we took the body out the church and put it in the hearse, and it’s either in front of us or behind us.

Gregg Stafford paying tribute to Danny Barker in front of Sweet Lorraine’s (2015) by J. R. ThomasonThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Fred Johnson, Black Men of Labor

Well, we put him up in honor of his contribution, and he’s the reason why we even have a parade, you know what I mean? Because it was in his funeral procession that the music was so powerful that guys said, listen, we need to do this again, and I said, yeah but not with a body [laughter]. But everybody was feening for what they had grown up in, in terms of the music.

So, it was [because of] Danny Barker’s work and beliefs that we keep the music going. And then everything else was going to follow. So, yeah that’s how we got, that’s how all this came about, this whole Black Men of Labor thing came about—as a result of the passing of Danny Barker and us trying to pay homage back to him, and I one of the best ways I thought we can pay homage was to create a parade and put the band back on the street in black and white.

Alvin “Quiet” Epps, Prince of Wales, at the Sandpiper Lounge (2008) by Judy CooperThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Parading Today

Social aid and pleasure clubs continue to evolve, while nourishing and perpetuating the second line parade tradition. Each year, from August through June, more than 50 clubs hit the streets to dance, celebrate, and honor their history and those they’ve lost.

Versatile Ladies at the Tremé Center before they come out with Sudan (2016) by Ryan Hodgson-RigsbeeThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Cheryl Ann Roberts, Versatile Ladies of Style

Yes. We’re actually, um, in the [Treme] Center. Normally, before we hit the street, I make the ladies make a circle. We will pray before we hit the street. You know, to pray that God blesses our day.

And I also tell my ladies, what we’re getting ready to do right now is anything that you may have struggled with throughout the years. What I want you to do is place it under your feet, because we’re about to dance it away.

Tyrone "Pie" Stevenson creating regalia for Spirit 2 Da Street (2015) by Ryan Hodgson-RigsbeeThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Tyrone “Pi” Stevenson, Spirit 2 Da Street

I love what every club is doing. Every social pleasure club, I love what they’re doing because everybody is bringing a part of themselves to their club. And that’s what makes this so unique, you know, is that every club that has a day to parade and second line is—what they’re putting on the street is beautiful.

So, you know, I’m with that. I enjoy that. I love to see a creativity. I love to see, you know, the outpouring of the people there. I love to see each club expressing their self in what they wearing, you know? I love that, you know.

Fred Johnson, Benny Jones Sr., and Gregg Stafford coming out (2015) by J. R. ThomasonThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Fred Johnson, Black Men of Labor, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project

Coming out that door, Rachel, is the beginning of getting close to the end [laughter]. Because by the time we come out that door, all kind of shit done went down. Listen, I mean, to put on this parade, now that we're not doing it, I can sit back in retrospect—

RB: Relief?

FJ: Huh?

RB: Do you feel relief?

FJ: Yeah. Coming out that door, that’s 50 percent of it. Now, we got to go through the street and get back and go back in that door with everybody. That’s the other 50 percent.

Lady Buckjumper Raymeker Davis coming out the door at the Divas and Dudes Salon (2012) by Leslie ParrThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Linda Tapp Porter, Lady Buckjumpers

We like to be classy. We like to look like we spent a lot of money, but, and I know people think we do, but not out of our pockets. We give functions and we raise money, and people don’t even believe all these years our dues just been $20. And then 30-something years later, it’s still $20.

So—but, you know, we, that’s our style though we like to look good. We like to dress a certain kind of way. We don’t get our style like, if a club come out this way, well we got to be better—no. We try to be better than the way we was the year before. I never look at another club like that; I just look at us.

If we look like this at the moment we gotta up, do something different this year, you know. Best not be two years.

Askia Bennett coming out the door, Ole & Nu Style Fellas (2010) by Leslie ParrThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Darryl Press, Ole & Nu Style Fellas (part 1)

We was trying to recruit kids because we wanted—that was the concept—we started with the kids. I think it’s the kids; we want to save the youth, get them active into something and catch some of this culture, you know. We don’t want this to get away, so if you learn something, if I'm teaching you something, well then, you’re gonna be able to catch it and then pass it on.

That’s how cultures—the life of the culture—stays alive. The Indians, second liners, whatever this is, what we pride and keep ourselves on—we want this tradition to last, to keep going for generations to come. Just like, my dad was in a group and he got sick and fell down, fell out; well I have to step up in his place.

So, when I first got back parading with the guys uptown, I said, you know what man, we had little Nkrumah Better Boys juniors, like. So, I told my partner, well I said, you know what I got, my baby boy I want to put in the club. So he said, ok.

Darryl Press, Ole & Nu Style Fellas (part 2)

This little boy, that boy there was I think three years old dressed up like one of us. My wife had found him the shoes, the colors, the outfits, everything—because, you know, the women, we’ll do as a group before we knew how to do anything. We’ll give you the concept on what we're doing, and you gotta match up to what we doing. And that’s how he’ll be able to dress up looking like one of us. We get the costume, we get the outfits done, and then we get the decorations done, and after that we got another little man looking like us.

And he was a smash hit because he always had it in his rhythm, the dance. So when, you know, everybody loves seeing the little bitty baby or somebody small getting down, all eyes on him, they done forgot about us you know. So he got to be with me at two, three years old, I would say, and he paraded with me from then on up.

Money Wasters member Armad Rickmon (2016) by Charles Muir LovellThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Money Wasters ensemble interview, Dr. Jarrett Johnson, Casey Batiste, and Adeline Ed Robertson speaking (part 1)

JJ: Because, see what happens is, particularly with the young generation, you know, to get them involved in this, to, be culture bearers, and that’s, the deal, to perpetuate this history for us, it’s the same thing I tell my daughter. But, you have to take an interest in it. So, once Casey second lined for the first time, that was it.

CS: So, it was like, “Wow, this is what I’ve been missing out on.” I always heard about ’em, my grandparents lived for second lines, the second line music, and they really had the footwork. So when Dr. Johnson asked me to participate, “Would you like to see what it’s about?” I was like, “Oh great,” but the first time parading it was like, “Wow, I love it.”

AR: Best experience in the world when you come out that door. Yeah, and she throws down for it; she showed up and showed out.

Money Wasters ensemble interview, Dr. Jarrett Johnson, Casey Batiste, and Adeline Ed Robertson speaking (part 2)

JJ: Right, so now, so but again that’s, that’s kind of part of what it is to keep the culture alive, don’t miss a parade day, keep hitting the street, you know, learn everything there is about it. And, you know, just like we had this call yesterday with the Red Beans krewe and Feed the Second Line and we participated, the Money Wasters participated in, you know, going door to door delivering food to the culture bearers and people like that. I mean, it’s so much a part of New Orleans that we have to keep it alive; we can’t let it die.

AR: Can’t let it die, that’s right.

Keep ’N It Real and Hot 8 Brass Band, playing a dirge, honoring late drummer Dinerral Shavers (2009) by Leslie ParrThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Perry “Ice Bird” Franklin, Keep ’N It Real, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project

PF: Right now we’re doing a thing for Dinerral.

RB: Oh, from the Hot 8?

PF: Yes, yes, yes, yes. That’s something we do every year, on Broad and Dumaine, where he got killed.

RB: Can you explain, for the interview, what happened with Dinerral?

PF: Um, at the time they told me he had went to go pick up his stepson. When the stepson came to get in the car, people started shooting at his stepson. They shot Dinerral. And he passed away after that. So we do a tribute to the Hot 8 and Dinerral, all our parades, on Dumaine and Broad.

RB: That’s beautiful.

PF: That’s what the cross on the ground is for.

Nathaniel Jackson, vice president of Dumaine Street Gang (1-Dec-19) by MJ MastrogiovanniThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Byron Hogans and Rene Reynolds, Dumaine Street Gang, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project

RB: And what’s the “Yes Sir” about?

BH: He started his own little tradition; he carries that key every year. And every year he put a different theme on it. I think it started the year he lost his grandmother and he put her name on it, so every year he just come up with some type of little theme. His personal theme.

RR: And his theme was always like, you know, Dumaine Street—we so pretty we got the key to the city. So that’s what that key symbolizes. We’re so pretty we have the key to the city, they gave us the key to the city. So that’s just his little trash talking, you know. That picture right there symbolizes exactly who he is.

BH: Oh yeah, he put monkeyshine, it’s time for us to monkeyshine. If I had to describe Fat, I would say the best description would be bad child. He is a bad child.

RR: Yeah. That’s the bad child.

Jerome “DJ Jubilee” Temple, grand marshal, YMO Jr. funeral parade for Alfred “Bucket” Carter (2015) by Pableaux JohnsonThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Norman Dixon Jr., Young Men Olympian Jr., speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project

ND: G [Temple], fit like a glove with the organization, because he’s a community guy. He’s another one, he don’t care if he dance, make one move, he might not dance one time the whole parade.

RB: Oh really?

ND: Yeah, he’s in it for what the organization does and what he stands for, helping the community. He’s the grand marshal, which I love because he has to run the parade. We done had grand marshals that like to dance the whole parade and the whole parade be all out of order. He’s not interested in the dancing part, so he walks up and down all four hours. “You need to walk up. You need to move. Y’all need to stop! Slow down! Speed up!” And that’s his job.

Willie Richards parading with Question Mark Social and Pleasure Club (4-Dec-16) by Vincent SimmonsThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Troy Materre, Question Mark, speaking to Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 1)

TM: So. Everything was a learning process. I knew, already knew how to put a fan together, ’cause I’d been doing the fans.

RB: Uh huh.

TM: But doing the screamers, which—the sash or whatever you want to call it—it’s called a screamer. I don’t know why. Doing that, that was my first time, putting that together. And I really put my foot and effort into it.

Troy Materre, Question Mark, speaking to Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 2)

TM: And coming home from work every night, going to bed one, two o’clock in the morning, till I got this like I wanted it. And it came out to be such a beautiful thing. I wouldn’t let them see it, till I got it.

RB: [laughs]

TM: Me . . . Did I tell you? The first time I done it, they didn’t see it till it was completed. I had to match ’em and put it together on ’em. That was the first time they seen it. And they was like, man. And I was like, wow, I done it.

Treme Sidewalk Steppers dancing in stylish camouflage (18-Feb-18) by Vincent SimmonsThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Sean Martin and Derrick Walker, Treme Sidewalk Steppers (part 1)

SM: And that’s one thing we strive on: we strive on perfection as far as like, you know, making sure that everyone, and he is—

DW: We don’t play.

SM: He—if you don’t have on the same T-shirt—

DW: You won’t parade.

SM: The same underwear—

DW: You won’t parade.

SM: The same socks—

DW: You won’t parade.

SM: You won’t come out, because—

DW: You won’t parade.

SM: Honest.

DW: You won’t parade.

Sean Martin and Derrick Walker, Treme Sidewalk Steppers (part 2)

DW: It’s literally—and we say we’re gonna wear the same glasses, the same this, that, the other. If you don’t have that on the day of the parade, you don’t parade. But me and him called that years ago, because we would see some people parade, “He got this on, he got that on,” and it’s not uniform.

SM: No.

DW: If it’s not uniform to the max, you won’t parade.

SM: The people pay attention to details.

Keep 'N It Real rope holder on Orleans Avenue (2012) by Leslie ParrThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Perry “Ice Bird” Franklin, Keep ’N It Real, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 1)

RB: And who holds your ropes?

PF: Um, they have different guys every Sunday. Most of them be the same guys that hold at other parades. They just show up out there and ask to hold the rope. So we get them a shirt and pay them at the end.

RB: Oh yeah?

PF: Yeah.


PF: So they have a job, too, on Sundays.

RB: Yeah.

PF: So that’s why they try to come—yeah. They have a job, too.

Perry “Ice Bird” Franklin, Keep ’N It Real, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project (part 2)

RB: For people who don’t understand the role of the rope holder, what would you say they need to do for you?

PF: For the rope concern, that’s to keep, you know, everything organized. You know, if not with that rope, you going to have people everywhere. Then the people ain’t gonna be able to see the club.

RB: Yeah.

PF: Right, you know, and they have some clubs don’t use the ropes. They use their members. But then it’s kind of hard for you to tell your members, “Pay attention,” when they’re trying to have so much fun, so most of the clubs get the rope. Get the rope.

Lady Buckjumpers at Jazz Fest (clockwise from front): Shalanda Goffner, Barbara Rainey, Nikole Ellis, Renata Hampton, and Linda Tapp Porter (April or May 2008) by Judy CooperThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Linda Tapp Porter, Lady Buckjumpers, speaking with Rachel Breunlin, Neighborhood Story Project

RB: How is Jazz Fest different from your own parade?

LP: Hot [laughter]. But our parade be hot too sometimes. But other than that it be fun because you still see a lot of outside people, you know, coming from all over the world to see that. And we have our own followers, too, that come on that Sunday. They get mad when they change our time, because they looking for us at a certain time ’cause we usu—I don’t know why, but usually whenever they put us somewhere, it always keep us at that same spot. But a couple of years they’ve been moving us for Jazz Fest.

Sylvester Francis filming in front of the Backstreet (2009) by Jeffrey David EhrenreichThe Historic New Orleans Collection

Sylvester Francis and Ronald W. Lewis

Two museums devoted to the history of social aid and pleasure clubs and African American masking traditions in New Orleans stand as testaments to their founders: Sylvester Francis of the Backstreet Cultural Museum and Ronald W. Lewis of the House of Dance and Feathers.

Ronald W. Lewis coming out with the Big Nine (2019) by Judy CooperThe Historic New Orleans Collection

The two men died within months of each other in 2020, dealing a double blow to the culture of New Orleans. Dancing in the Streets is dedicated to their memory.

Following the examples of these partnerships, THNOC has built Dancing in the Streets in collaboration with the Neighborhood Story Project and more than 30 club founders, presidents, longtime members, and others.

Credits: Story

This virtual exhibition was created to complement a physical exhibition on view from February 25–June 13, 2021, at The Historic New Orleans Collection. All of the quoted material comes from interviews conducted by Neighborhood Story Project for The Historic New Orleans Collection. The interviews follow the collaborative model established by Sylvester Francis of the Backstreet Cultural Museum and Ronald W. Lewis of the House of Dance and Feathers. We are proud to carry the legacy of Lewis and Francis into this exhibition. This virtual exhibition was assembled by the staff of The Historic New Orleans Collection, which gratefully acknowledges the photographers who lent or donated their work for this display: Judy Cooper, Jeffrey David Ehrenreich, L. J. Goldstein, Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee, Pableaux Johnson, Charles Muir Lovell, MJ Mastrogiovanni, Leslie Parr, Vincent Simmons, and J. R. Thomason.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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