Originating from southwestern Louisiana, the Zydeco dance isn’t just a unique part of the heritage of the people in this area. But it’s also a lovely dance to bust out at dance halls (bonus point if you’re in Louisiana.)
This dance is known for its infectious rhythms and catchy melodies, making it nearly impossible to resist moving your feet to the beat.
In this article, we’ll explore Zydeco dance’s rich history and cultural significance – also, the music, steps, and techniques involved in this dynamic dance form.
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What Is Zydeco Dance
You can distinguish the Zydeco from other Louisianan folk dances by its fast-paced footwork and syncopated rhythms.
The dance also banks heavily on improvisational movements. This means to reflect the lively spirit and cultural heritage of the Francophone Creole peoples of Cajun country in Louisiana (more on this later.)
The dance style is typically performed with a partner. And it involves a range of movements, including spins, dips, and turns, all set to the infectious beat of Zydeco music.
Zydeco Dancing And Cajun Dancing
Although both dances originate from Cajun country (Acadiana), Zydeco dancing and Cajun dancing are two very different dances. Besides the music, they also differ in the steps as well as their origins.
Zydeco dancing is, expectedly, usually done to Zydeco music. This genre is a fusion between African American and Creole music styles and emerged in the early 20th century.
And, it’s characterized by its lively beat, fast-paced footwork, syncopated rhythm, and being primarily a partner dance.
Cajun dancing, on the other hand, is typically performed in Cajun music. This dance style generally is less improvisational than Zydeco. The dancers often keep their feet close to the floor as they perform their footwork.
Cajun dancing isn’t a partner dance, but more of a group dance. People will line up on the dance floor and synchronize their movements with one another and the music.
Zydeco Dance Origin & History
Zydeco dance has its roots in the rich cultural traditions of Louisiana, particularly among the Francophone Creole and African American communities in the region.
Before the invention of the Zydeco dance, there was music.
Zydeco music first evolved among the Louisianans in the early 20th century. At that time, African American musicians in Louisiana began incorporating the accordion and other instruments into their music.
And the result was Zydeco: a harmonious blend of blues, R&B, and folk music.
As for the meaning of the word “Zydeco,” it’s thought to have been derived from the French phrase “les haricots” (meaning “the beans”). This was a term used to describe the community dances where the music was played.
Like most folk dances, Zydeco has evolved with the people and the time. In the 21st century, the dance is still performed at various folk festivals in southwestern Louisiana.
But besides the original flavor, Zydeco has grown to accept influences from other musical styles, like rock and funk.
Check more: Where Did The Conga Dance Originate?
Zydeco Dance Steps
Even though there are many steps and variations to the Zydeco dance, they all share the same three basic qualities: Lively footwork, syncopated rhythms, and playful, improvisational movements.
The latter is particularly important. Even though you’ll be dancing alongside other pairs of dancers in a typical Zydeco dance session, you don’t have to follow their leads and copy their movements.
So long that it fits the beat and you have fun, there’s no rigid choreography you must follow (watch this video to glean what that looks like.)
So, you can learn a couple of basic steps and confidently get onto the dance floor, improvising your movements as you go:
- Basic Step: The basic step of Zydeco dance involves a series of side-to-side and forward-backward movements to the rhythm of the music.
- Cross Step: The cross step involves crossing one foot in front of the other while shifting your body weight from one side to the other.
- Pivot Step: The pivot step involves shifting weight from one foot to the other while pivoting on the ball of the foot.
- Spin: In a spin, you rotate your entire body on one foot, usually in response to a change in the music.
- Dip: This is one of the most dramatic movements in Zydeco. The dancer leans back and forward, often in time with the music, guided by the leading partner.
- Slide: The slide involves a sliding motion of the feet across the floor, often done in conjunction with other movements like spins or pivots.
How To Dance Zydeco With A Partner
Learned all of the solo basic steps? Great! Now you’re ready to practice with a partner.
- Start with the basic step
The basic step of Zydeco involves a series of side-to-side and forward-backward movements, often done in time with the music’s rhythm. Begin by standing facing your partner, with your hands clasped together.
- Move to the beat
Listen to the music and move your feet in time with the rhythm. Use the basic step as a starting point.
Then, as you get more comfortable with each other, add other steps and movements.
- Take turns leading
In Zydeco dance, you don’t have to stay as lead or follow throughout the session. Partners often take turns leading and following.
- Incorporate spins, dips, and turns
Playful, improvisational movements characterize zydeco dance, so feel free to add spins, dips, and turns as you dance.
Keep it as fun as possible for both of you! Chat with them or tell them what you’re going to do next. It’s a social dance, so be social!
Zydeco Dance Music
Zydeco music is always played in the background of a Zydeco dance session.
Instruments used in Zydeco music include the rubboard (a percussion instrument also known as the “washboard”), drums, bass, and guitar. Sometimes, there’s even a horn section.
Zydeco dance music often features call-and-response vocals, with the lead singer calling out a line and the chorus responding.
The lyrics typically tell stories about life in Louisiana, often celebrating the region’s unique cultural heritage.
If you want to hear some good recordings, we highly recommend checking out the discography of Clifton Chenier. Often called the “King of Zydeco,” he’s one of the earliest pioneers of Zydeco music.
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With its lively movements and culturally-rich sounds, the Zydeco dance is worth checking out if you ever get the opportunity to visit southwestern Louisiana. It’s one of the greatest parts of the culture of the folks in the area.
And of course, if you ever got the invitation to attend a dance session … don’t turn it down! We’re sure that you’ll come to love the energy and passion behind this dance.
Have you ever seen a Zydeco dance before? What’s your experience like and what was your favorite part about it all?
Tell us in the comments!