Review: Cajun & Zydeco Dance videos

Introduction to Cajun Dancing / Advanced Cajun Dancing

by Rand and Cynthia Speyrer

For Cajun dance, I have seen a series of two videos: Introduction to Cajun Dancing, followed by Advanced Cajun Dancing by  (Running time: 60 Minutes). This tape covers advanced Cajun Jitterbug and the Troika, a three person folk dance. This tape will allow you to figure out most of the more difficult jitterbug moves including Big and Little Windows, Turns, and Pretzels. I liked the clear presentation that breaks down complicated moves into clear steps. I also liked that after the moves are broken down, there is demonstration at normal speed to show some practice drills.

Gotta Dance - Cajun Style

by Billy and Bobbye Keyes

Video is approximately one hour and forty-two minutes long and includes detailed instruction of the Cajun two-step, waltz, and jig. Features five dancing couples who demonstrate each of the dances before the respective instructional phase. Actual instructional portion is slightly over one hour in length. The instruction takes you from the very basic or novice level through the intermediate/advanced level. Each move is explained very deliberately. The complex moves are illustrated several times with the instructors in various positions (facing camera, back to camera, side to camera).

Two-Step Instruction--About 12 minutes in length. Includes basic step, dance position with partner, techniques for foot turns with partner, and detailed illustration of the movement of the dance on the dance floor. You will also be introduced to the Shadow Dance as a special feature.

Waltz Instruction--About 30 to 35 minutes in length. Includes basic step, dance position with partner, techniques for foot turns with partner, a number of hand, arm, and turning movements while dancing, and detailed illustration of the movement of the dance around the dance floor.

Jig Instruction--About 20 to 25 minutes in length. Includes basic step, dance position with partner, and the structuring of a type jig for a dance of about three minutes There is no prescribed sequence for the jig dance. The three minute dance that is instructed in the video is designed to give you a series of hand and arm movements with minimum repetition of the various moves. If you do not learn the hand and arm movements, you do not have a dance, as the movements are the essence of the dance.

Lagniappe (something extra)--The final 15 plus minutes of the video includes several demonstration dances. These dances are not instructional in nature. They are merely designed to provide you with examples of the liveliness of Cajun dancing and to acquaint you with some group dances that can be done to the jig step. The featured dances are: a fast paced single couple Jig, a four-some (two couple) dance, an eight-some (four couple) dance, a five couple type of Cajun folk dance, and a combination of a five couple train and Mardi Gras umbrella dance.

Jerry Rice's Review: Gotta Dance - Cajun Style by Billy and Bobbye Keyes is a great video that it is well worth the money. The instructors cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, and mastering the material will allow any dancer to Cajun dance in Louisiana or anywhere else around the world. Strong points of the video are clear presentation, the multiple camera angles, and numerous couple that demonstrate the dances. I also liked the way that the dances are put into good cultural context, and the audience is invited to visit Southwest Louisiana. The former issue is important because like other folk dances, Cajun dance is mix of tradition from the past and what is commonly danced today (i.e. the way "folks" are dancing today.) The video nicely addresses this without an overly weighty discussion. There is just minor caveats worth mentioning. Only Billy wear a microphone and provides instruction so some viewers may feel left out not hearing Bobbye who could have provided more of the female or followers perspective. Also the dance costumes are nice but not typical of what is seen at most Cajun dancehalls or dances.

Allons Dancer - Whisky River Jitterbug

by Michael Seider

One my last trip to Louisiana, some the best dancers I saw where doing the Whiskey River Jitterbug. This dance, sometimes called Lake Charles Slide, is a version of 6 count swing from the SWLA / East Texas areas. I have seen this step many years, and I have always liked the look of the dance. However, I never saw anywhere to learn the dance or even anyone to break it down. In fact, the only place I know of to learn this dance outside of SWLA area is this video (and the video below). I found one to be really great and well thought out for many reasons. I will highlight a few reasons here:

The steps are clearly broken down with simultaneous views of both partners dancing. For the folks who like to count, there is neat little system to learn and memorize the counts for each footwork. There is great footage of several local dancers that illustrate the look and stylings of the dance. The editing, sound and lighting are above average. There are even a few jokes and out-takes to keep things lively.
The video covers a lot of ground, but the pace to reasonable for dancers of all levels.

There were a few very minor caveats. I would have liked to have seen a little footage from real dances. It's not the demos in the video are lacking, but it would just be nice to see the energy of the dance in a club setting. The music in the video is good, but the same songs over and over can get a little repetitive (probably this a testament to how many times I watched this video). All in all, this is great video.

Zydeco Dance Videos

For zydeco dance beginners, there are a number of videos that I can recommend. The one that you choose may depend on how you personally learn. Some dancers just "see the dance" and then can "feel the dance" (meaning they can intuitively feel what is right). If this is you, then you might consider Zydeco-robics by Mona "Zydeco Queen" Wilson. It starts with basic zydeco taught in the two-step method which is how many native SW Louisiana dancers learn (for example, some of the zydeco band members that I know learned to dance this way). As Mona herself says of her method, "no counting, just dancing." As a teacher, I have found that this method gets even the most "two-left footed" out on the dance floor moving to the music.

For many outside Louisiana or who have learned to dance other dance styles, a more rigorous or "broken down" to the bare elements approach is preferred. Said another way, some learners are more "counters" than "feelers." If this is you, then you may prefer Learn to Zydeco Dance Tonite (shown at right) by Ben Pagac. This tape provides background material and breaks down the basics of zydeco dance. The information to order is here.

Another good tape that covers the beginner to immediate levels is the Zydeco Dance Primer from Michael Seider, a long time instructor that teaches in SW Louisiana and around the world. The tape nicely breaks down the styling of the dance as it done in the dancehalls of SW Louisiana. The tape also covers moves and footwork, and I can highly recommend it for dancers of all levels. Some strong points of this tape is that dance frame and styling are emphasized as well as leading. Also, both slow-quick-quick and 8 count methods are given to show how moves match the music. I found the tape to cover a lot a ground in a relatively compact space (running time of about 30 minutes). However, some me may find pace too fast and want longer explanations with move broken into smaller pieces. Also, Michael's partners, Pam Ardoin and Annie Simonson, do a great job of demonstrating dance but do not provide any dialogue; some viewer may miss the followers comments.

For a little more information, the following was sent by Michael: "The video starts with the basics so its good for new dancers. The basics also provide an understanding of the dance and my approach to teaching that enables more experienced dancers to master the partnered and freestyle moves that go beyond the basics. The video also provides plenty of footage of dancing to enhance styling and pull it all together. Willis Prudhomme allowed me to use his music for the video." The information to order is here.

As described above, some dancers are more "feelers" that can see and do what feels right while others are "counters" that need step and moves more clearly broken down. If you fall into the "counter" group, I can recommend tape Advanced Zydeco Dance by Ben Pagac. This tape does a great job of breaking down more advanced moves including open position footworks, crossovers, and lifts on 1 count (called "cheating on one" here). This tape also demonstrates the Creole dance called Basse Bas. The information to order is here.

For more advanced zydeco dancers, I can recommend Zydeco Dancing, ETC!!! by Mona "Zydeco Queen" Wilson (Running time: 90 Minutes). This tape is not instructional in the sense of breaking down moves. However, the tape includes a number of good dancers with distinctive styles so that advanced dancers will be able to pick up new moves and dance styling. Tape was recorded May 25, 1996 in Cade, Louisiana. Music is provided by Zydeco Force & the Total Package Band. Some of the reviews of this tape have said, " What I was hoping to get out of video was to see great Zydeco dancing & to get new ideas for moves & styling, and that's exactly what it's doing for me" (Washington, D.C. dancer) and "Fun to watch Louisiana dancers and compare with NW dancers" (CA dancer). The information to order is here.