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Allons Danser!

Let the good times roll this fall at Louisiana’s dance halls

The Thursday night regulars at Randol’s Restaurant & Cajun Dance Hall in Lafayette, La., twirled on the well-used dance floor as music driven by a chirpy squeezebox filled the large room. When we explained to our waitress that we were first-timers, she smiled and said, “Nice to meet y’all! Now eat a lot and enjoy!”

Saloon

Above: A variety of roots music–including Zydeco–is heard at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette. Eric Lindberg/Lafayette CVC photo

Below: In the 1920s and ‘30s, Cajun dance halls often were wooden warehouses with small stages to accommodate a few acoustic musicians. A dance was a family affair, a chance for a community to come together. Library of Congress photo

Dance Hall

That directive became the creed of our trip to Acadiana. Actually, that seems to be a way of life here, where visitors are friends (not strangers), and hospitality flows like a cold beer from the local Bayou Teche Brewery.

Dance halls are a big part of south Louisiana’s culture. Some, like Randol’s, are well known and visited by tourists; only the locals know others. But all play an important part of keeping Acadiana’s musical traditions alive.

We saw a good mix of ages at Randol’s during our visit; teens and seniors two-stepped together. When the band took its break, the guitar player came off the bandstand and greeted friends who sat on the sidelines.

At Louisiana’s dance halls, the focus is on community and great music.

The emergence of salles de danse

According to Louisiana native Ryan Brasseaux, who is dean of the Davenport College at Yale University and a contributor to KnowLA, The Digital Encyclopedia Louisiana (www.knowla.org), Cajun dance halls (salles de danse) emerged in Louisiana around the Civil War. Rustic ballrooms resembled wooden warehouses, and the halls were lined with benches. A small dais accommodated acoustic musicians, and gumbo and other refreshments were served from a counter. Dance halls were used for family and community gatherings.

Over the generations, dance halls changed and the venues became less family friendly. Traditional dances faded in the late 1920s and more contemporary music and dancing became part of the dance hall experience.

In 1980, a new venue emerged that combined a restaurant with a dance hall. Mulate’s opened in Breaux Bridge, while Prejean’s and Randol’s debuted in Lafayette. As Americans discovered Cajun cuisine, these restaurant-dance hall combos became widely known.

Waltz on over to these dance halls

Travelers interested in putting on their dancing shoes and enjoying these venues will find the largest concentration in Lafayette, as well as St. Martin Parish, which includes the towns of Arnaudville, Breaux Bridge, Henderson, and St. Martinville.

In St. Landry Parish, the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice offers demonstrations of Cajun dancing. Every Saturday night, dancing is part of the live radio broadcast, Rendez-vous des Cajuns, held in Eunice at the Liberty Theater.

In Lafayette, check out these venues:

  • Randol’s Restaurant & Cajun Dance Hall, 2320 Kaliste Saloom Road. Friendly and welcoming, you’ll find plenty of Cajun and Zydeco music paired with hearty platters of Cajun fare. The ginger-cane-glazed shrimp, boudin balls, and étouffée were excellent. The crabmeat au gratin is completely decadent. Great family gathering spot.

  • Prejean’s Restaurant, 3480 N.E. Evangeline Throughway. Another good choice for families, Prejean’s is known for juicy steaks, wild game dishes, and gumbos. Hear music seven nights a week plus weekend mornings.

  • Blue Moon Saloon, 215 E. Convent St. Since 2002, the Blue Moon Saloon has been a popular American venue for roots music from around the world. This funky bar is a great evening choice for adults, and while it is diverse, you will feel right at home.

Breaux Bridge offers these restaurants and dance halls:

  • Café des Amis, 140 E. Bridge St. Zydeco breakfasts from 8 a.m. to noon are popular here. Folks start lining up outside at 7:30 a.m. (reservations are not taken for breakfast). Plan for a minimum 30-minute wait for table, but you won’t be disappointed once seated. Beignets, egg dishes, creamy grits, boudin, and crawfish étouffée will please your palate. Dance off the calories to great music. Suitable for families with children 10 years and older.

  • La Poussiere, 1215 Grand Pointe Ave. Since 1955, this dance hall–once known as Patin’s Bar–has offered good times and great Cajun music. La Poussiere, French for “the dust,” got its name from the dust that dancers kicked up on vibrating hardwood dance floors. The authentic deal, La Poussiere is open Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. Suited for adults.

  • Pont Breaux’s Cajun Restaurant, 325 W. Mills Ave. Fill up on gumbo, boudin, alligator, and other Cajun favorites before hitting the dance floor. Cajun music is offered each night. Suitable for families.

In Henderson, the place to be on a Sunday afternoon (4–8 p.m.) is the Whiskey River Landing, 1365 Henderson Levee Road. Dance to the music of a live Cajun or Zydeco band on a plywood dance floor polished smooth by hundreds of dancers each weekend. Enjoy the beautiful Atchafalaya Basin as the backdrop to the live music. Suited for adults.

Take a tour of the Atchafalaya Basin, enjoy a plate of boiled crawfish, and try your luck on the dance floor at McGee’s Landing, also in Henderson. A marina also is on site. Music and dancing are offered weekends.

The New Orleans area is not without its share of Cajun food and music. Although the original location in Breaux Bridge has closed, Mulate’s New Orleans location, 201 Julia St., has welcomed guests since 1990. Cajun music and dancing are offered nightly. The dinner menu–which offers many Louisiana favorites–includes Cajun smoked oysters for an appetizer, red beans and rice, or gumbo for the main course, and bread pudding for dessert. There are also platters of seafood, pasta, and steaks to enjoy.

On the Northshore, the Cajun Dancers get together monthly at the Abita Springs Town Hall (22161 Level St.). The next gathering is Sept. 13. The dance, featuring music by the Cajun Troubadours, starts at 8 p.m., but Cajun dance lessons are offered at 7 p.m. The cost is $8 (non-members, $6 for members).

Good music and good food

He won’t teach you how to do the Cajun jitterbug, but Paul Ayo can show you a few things about cooking, and food is another big part of Acadian culture. Ayo and his wife, Jenine, own E’s Kitchen (1921 Kaliste Saloom Road), a wonderful place for cooks. Gadgets, gifts, and cookware are offered, as well as classes. Ayo says he focuses on technique, not recipes.

Soak up the colorful atmosphere at Blue Dog Café, 1211 W. Pinhook Road in Lafayette, while enjoying award-winning Cajun cuisine and live music. You’ll love the iconic Blue Dog paintings by George Rodrigue, as well as the seafood wontons and crawfish enchiladas. A variety of live music is offered here on select nights.

Acadiana is calling with lively music, outstanding cuisine, and plenty of good times.

Deborah Reinhardt is managing editor of AAA Southern Traveler magazine.

September/October 2014 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

For more information, contact the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission,
(800) 346-1958, www.lafayettetravel.com; St. Martin Parish Tourist Commission,
(888) 565-5939, www.cajuncountry.org.

Those interested in the Cajun dances in Abita Springs may contact the town hall at
(985) 892-0711. Mulate’s restaurant in New Orleans can be reached by calling
(504) 522-1492.


To visit Louisiana, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Free Travel Information Card found online.



 

Stir up some fun at these Acadian festivals

The Festivals Acadiens et Créoles, which will be Oct. 9–12, is the granddaddy of south Louisiana’s Cajun festivals. Held each year in Girard Park in Lafayette, the festival combines food, music, dancing, crafts, children’s activities, and more for a complete immersion into the Acadian and Créole culture.

Bike Lafayette provides a corral should festivalgoers want to ride their bike to the event, or there’s shuttle service from the University of Louisiana Lafayette campus to the festival grounds. The parking fee is $10.

For more information, visit http://www.festivalsacadiens.com or call the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission at (800) 346-1958.

Music, food, and community come together at Acadian Village in Lafayette for Black Pot Festival and Cook-off, held Oct. 24 and 25. Cooks compete for the best gumbo award, vendors offer more Cajun fare, and musicians–from Louisiana, as well as around the globe–entertain all weekend and keep the music going for enthusiastic dancers. Acadian Village (200 Greenleaf Drive) makes the perfect setting as concerts and demonstrations are held in some of the reconstructed 19th-century Acadian buildings.

A big part of the Black Pot Festival is camping. Cars, tents, and RVs surround the village, and there’s also a camp–Lakeview Park & Beach–between Eunice and Mamou for more tents and RVs. A historical dance hall hosts Cajun musicians and dancers.

For more information, visit www.blackpotfestival.com or call the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission at (800) 346-1958.

cookoff judge

Above: Cook-off judge Stu Barash of Metairie, La., samples Cajun dishes at the Black Pot Festival and Cook-Off. Deborah Reinhardt photo

 


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