Tuesday, January 2, 2018
An Open Letter to the City of New Orleans from The NOLA Showgirls
Dear City of New Orleans Government officials,
Recently, you decided to get together with officials from each of the New Orleans Mardi Gras Krewes to discuss ways you could make parades better going forward. One of the topics discussed was a way to make parades more efficient and end more quickly. Although we absolutely agree that there are severe limitations and restrictions placed on the city (traffic, resources, etc) during parades, and that parades have gotten longer and longer over the years, we could not disagree more with what you chose to do, which was ultimately to limit the amount of Mardi Gras Dance/Marching Krewes allowed in each parade.
Never mind the fact that we (the dance captains of all of the krewes) weren't even invited to participate in this meeting. We would have had suggestions of our own, and definitely could have come to some kind of compromise. For instance, we could have rotated in dancing and non-dancing members, similar to the ways the 610 Stompers have mastered this over the years, to give everyone ample time to rest. We could have promised to cut our dance moves that stop in place. We could have even pledged only to dance at grandstands, and to just walk for the rest of the time. We even could have gone full Reneé Borne Ensemble, and rented a truck with a stage to dance on, so that we'd always be moving. But we weren't even given the option to participate, or the ability to brainstorm. We weren't given any options at all.
We would have loved to be in attendance at this meeting, not just as NOLA Showgirls, but combined with representatives and leaders from other groups. The Baby Dolls, Pussyfooters, Amelia Earhawts, Organ Grinders, Petty Betties, 610 Stompers, Tap Dat, Bearded Oysters, Skinz and Bonez, Gris Gris Strut, NOLA Jewels, NOLA Nyxettes, NOLA Bombshells, El Lucha Krewe, Laissez Boys, Rolling Elvi, Camel Toe Lady Steppers, Muff-A-Lottas, Cherry Bombs, the list goes on and on. We represent hundreds, if not thousands, of dancers who had a vested interest in this meeting, and in Carnival season. It's extremely troublesome and disappointing that our opinions were completely ignored.
Here are some things you may not have considered:
1. There are only, at best, six weeks to Carnival season when this news hit.
We have already paid for our costumes. New members have paid dues, which in many krewes is upwards of $600. We have practiced all year round, weekly, sometimes even bi-weekly, perfecting the routines that will be shown at Carnival. And now, we have parades cancelling on us, with nothing more than a half-hearted "sorry the city is making us do it" message, and some who haven't even the decency to return our e-mails or phone calls. And while the krewes that have cancelled us do not feel like they still need to make good on our payment in our contracts, in many cases, we aren't sure if the vendors that many of us hired (like DJs, support trucks, and medics) are going to feel the same way about a refund.
It's also discouraging that as a newer krewe, we had done many parades for free or discounted fees last year (and the year before) -- with a promise from the krewe that we would be paid this year, and now they are reneging on those promises. It is extremely possible that this setback may be the end of our krewe this year.
We had gotten through the hardest part of our preparations and the most challenging part of our years and were ready to coast into "the good part" when we were told the news.
We hand-rhinestone ostrich feathers, we sew our own shorts, we make our own corsets, by hand. We pay hundreds of dollars each year in studio rental fees so that we can practice our dances in front of mirrors, in a real dance studio. We have meetings to train our support krewe so that they follow all city ordinances and laws and keep us moving. We rehearse on video, painstakingly watching and re-watching dances to make sure everything is just right, the perfect combination of classy and entertaining. We're worried that it will all have been for nothing.
We are volunteers. We do this for no reason other than that we LOVE IT and we love the reaction from the people in the streets. The few hundred bucks we may get from a parade (We did many last year free of charge) barely covers our expenses. It's mostly just because we know that we love what we do and we get positive feedback from the public.
2. Dancing Krewes are the backbone of Carnival.
We know everyone keeps citing the Pussyfooters creation in 2000 as the original Mardi Gras Dance Krewe, and that's definitely something we will always respect them for, but the truth is that The Baby Dolls had been doing it since 1925, if not before. Mardi Gras always has a storied history of having dancers during parades, and there's a reason for that -- the crowds love to engage with someone on the ground who's just not hurling plastic at their faces. We love the floats, we love the riders, but there needs to be a more personal connection sometime. And that comes in with the dancing krewes.
Has Mardi Gras really become so commercial that all Krewes care about is adding more and more floats, riders, and $$$ to their bottom line? The city now has several so-called "super krewes" with over 2500 members and so many floats they have to use both numbers and letters to legally accommodate them, but is there really no room for a few dancers, literally, dancing in the streets?
3. Generally, when a parade is running late, the dancers are responsible less than 10 percent of the time.
Okay, so we may have made up this statistic but we've asked around, and from what we've heard from other dance krewes (as well as our own experiences) the only time we lag behind generally as dancers is when a float in front of us is lagging behind. Think back to every single Mardi Gras parade you've ever watched that has been late. Count them all mentally in your head. Are you still with us? How many of those were due to another parade before the current parade running behind? How many were due to some kind of accident? How many were due to a downed power line? What about an overzealous (and really long) speech to the Mayor at City Hall? Or perhaps it's a krewe that is known for just always running late. How many parades were late due to a flat tire on a tractor trailer?
Okay, now think hard--- how many of those parades were stalled due to a rogue dance krewe?
Zero? Yeah, that's what we thought.
And while we aren't completely delusional (we do understand that walkers move slower than people onboard a moving vehicle, it's just the way it is), we would have offered a ton of ideas on how we could all speed the process up. One of them would be not to put us at the very end of the parade, which happened to us in 3/4 of our parades last year. It's just not possible for a dance krewe to catch up after a breakdown and have to cover miles and miles of parade space in just minutes on foot when floats are high-tailing it at 15-20 mph to make up the difference. Another thing that a lot of people don't know is that last year most krewes limited our support vehicles to two pickup trucks, sometimes even to just one. Some refused to let us have any. So, how on earth are we supposed to play catch up when we have 20+ people on foot and only one or two trucks? Let us ride with a bus or limo behind us, and problem solved if we need to move extra fast for a couple of blocks. But in our case, the krewes limited our support vehicles and it may have slowed us down. Another solution would have been potentially to let the krewes "join in" on the ride at a later point than the floats, like they do in the Metairie Road parade and in the St. Bernard Irish Italian & Isleños parade. There has to be a solution that doesn't involve deleting dance teams from the parade roster.
So now, we're relegated to having to dance in Metairie and Northshore parades. Don't take offense, we love the metro New Orleans area and Northshore in all of its glory. If I-10 or the Causeway can bring us to you within an hour trip, we'll dance in your parade. But we're the NOLA Showgirls. We really wanted to dance in New Orleans, at least once this season. It's not Mardi Gras without New Orleans, it just isn't.
4. It seems like newer dance krewes are being penalized more than older ones.
Don't get us wrong on this. We absolutely think that the older and larger krewes have more right to be in a parade than we do, especially a parade that they've historically been in for longer than we have. But, if we're getting bumped from parades that we've done for now 3-4 years, for a krewe that simply has more numbers or a showier sound-system than we do, who never before participated in that parade -- well then, that sucks. The same should be true for a year 1 krewe who has 50 dancers who is being chosen over a year 4 krewe with 20. The worst part is that now Mardi Gras krewes have to CHOOSE, and make the Sophie's choice of dance teams. Instead of having room for everyone, it's all about who babysits who's children or who owes who a favor. Or who has the most members, or who will pay the most money. And that's the part of crooked Louisiana politics that we've have always hated, not the part of Mardi Gras and the Carnival spirit that makes this town the most fun town in the entire world.
We appreciate that you are trying to fix a problem and we love a proactive New Orleans, but we didn't think it had to come to this just yet. We understand it's just a "recommendation" for this year and will become an ordinance for 2019, but we're already feeling the effects of it now, and frankly, it really sucks that we weren't given enough time to prepare, or given the choice to maybe put our money into doing something else this year. Eliminating the Canal Street loop of the route is a huge change, so frankly, that should have been the first thing to happen, with possibly a recommendation on meeting with the dance krewes for next year. And we realize that dance krewes are growing in popularity and where there were once 5 there are now 40, but that only serve to show you that it's what the people want. Dancers BELONG in the streets of New Orleans.
We're completely heartbroken and urge you to reconsider. We urge anyone reading this to leave a comment with a solution if there's one we haven't thought of, and we definitely urge any parades that have an opening to give us a call. As it stands right now we have worked so hard for nothing and will not make an appearance at New Orleans Mardi Gras at all.
The NOLA Showgirls