Everyone has that one thing they absolutely love to do that their friends think is really random and weird. For me, that one random and really weird thing that I absolutely love to do is dance in parades.
Now, I'm going to preface this with a small anecdote on my history with the art of dance: I have been surrounded by dance my entire life because my mom has been a ballet teacher for over thirty years. At first she owned her own dance studio (Dance Etc. in Whiting, IN, where she actually met my dad at the grand opening) and a few years after having me, she moved to Dance Connection in Hessville, IN). Since my mom is a ballet teacher, she got right on trying to get me into dance lessons: In old videos from her Dance Etc. recitals you can see me running in circles around my dad, who hosted the shows, in tiny ballet shoes and a tutu. Around the age of three, I was really proud of my Cinderella tutu and even tried to get my mom to put me in the recital on the night of the show:
A few years later, my mom put me in Dance Connection's summer classes to see if I would like it enough to continue in the fall to be in the annual recital. After the classes ended, my mom, thinking that I had fallen in love with dance, said to me in the car one day, "Okay! So we're going to sign you up for dance classes now right?!?!!!!!!!"
My response was simple: "I'm sorry mommy but I don't really like dance all that much so I don't want to take any more lessons."
Needless to say, I broke my mother's heart, and years later, I have acquired the dance skills of my father.
We have our own signature 'geek' dance moves that I won't even attempt to describe for lack of words to describe their geekiness. Although neither my father nor I are by any means dancers, we've both had our fair share of appearances and cameos in recitals and other dance events. My dad used to paint the sets for recitals when my mom owned her own studio, and during DC's "A Royal Affair" recital, he made a cameo as a British guard for my mom's "God Save the Queen/Killer Queen" pointe number.
My dancing experiences are slightly different from my dad's. As I said at the beginning of this post, the one thing that's really random and weird that I love to do is dance in parades. Every year for the past few years, I've danced with Dance Connection in Whiting's annual Fourth of July and Pierogi Festival parades, and it's seriously the best thing ever. I love dancing in parades so much that when I was offered my internship in Chicago this summer and was able to stay home, this was the conversation I had with my mom:
Me: MOM I GOT THE INTERNSHIP!!!! Mom: YAY THAT MEANS YOU'RE GOING TO BE HOME ALL SUMMER!!!!!!!!!
Me: YES AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS?!?!?!
Mom: YOU GET TO SEE ME ALL THE TIME AND IT WILL BE GREAT!!!!!!
Me: Well, yes, BUT THAT MEANS I GET TO DANCE IN THE PARADES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As you can probably guess, I really, really love parade season. Yes, Whiting has a parade season! It may only be two parades, but I think that qualifies as a season, right? Maybe I should just say I love the month of July instead.
Okay, so for the Fourth of July parade, I don't really dance dance. I do an easier (okay, a very basic and simple) version of the numbers all of the older, much more experienced dancers do because I'm in the back with some of the teachers and volunteers helping and guiding the little kids do the dances. Now don't get me wrong: I LOVE the Fourth of July parade because we do some really cool songs, like Johnny Get Your Gun, Proud to Be an American and a Mickey Mouse patriotic medley (which is super exciting because this year Whiting is celebrating it's 125th anniversary so the whole town is going all out and the real Mickey and Minnie Mouse are coming from Disney to be in our parade!!!!!!!!!!), but my absolute favorite parade of all time is the Pierogi Parade.
Pierogi Fest is by far my favorite thing about Whiting. Every year in the last full weekend of July, Whiting shuts down its main street for three days and holds a festival dedicated to the Polish and Slovak heritage (the primary ethnicity of people in Whiting is Polish and Slovak. In my case, I'm half and half: a Polak). It's a festival that has been featured on the Food Network and is helmed by the famous Mr. Pierogi, a man in a pierogi suit. It's is the craziest and most fun festival I've ever been to. There is so much food and dancing and music and food (I know I said food twice. It's Pierogi Fest, you have to say food twice).
On the first night of the fest, there's the annual Pierogi Fest Polka Parade that includes some of the coolest and quirkiest acts and floats around. There's the Lazy Boys, a float the pulls around old dudes sitting in Lazy Boy recliners; the Lawn Mower Brigade, dudes who go down 119th street pushing lawn mowers; the Busha Brigade, a group of women who dance with the crowd; the Pieroguettes, the cheerleaders of Pierogi Festival (Mags was a Pieroguette for a while. She brought Miss Potato to life for a few years and named the potatoes on her hat: But the best act (okay, even though I'm a little bias because it's DC, but we really are one of the best acts in the parade) is Dance Connection's Dancing Bushas. We dress up in old lady babushkas and polka our way down 119th Street to diddys like "Roll Out The Barrel" and "Hey Babariba" and "Who Stole the Kishka?". My personal favorite dance is "Hoop De Doo", a dance that we do with walkers.
“Calling out around the world
Are you ready for a brand new beat / Summer's here and the time is right / For dancing in the streets.”
-Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, 1964
Dancing in parades certainly isn't something that everyone does, and by no means am I any good at it. It's something that I love to do because the people I dance with are some of the coolest and nicest people around and it really is a lot of fun. I love marching down 119th Street singing and dancing to "Proud to Be an American" because I really am proud to be an American. I love dancing my heart out to Mickey Mouse with the little kids, because who doesn't love jamming out to Disney music? I love polkaing with walkers because it's not something that I can do just anywhere. I love it even though there have been times where it's been 90+ degrees out and we're all dancing with sweat dripping down our faces and arms and legs. I love carrying kids to the float to cool off. I love when Miss Jeanette or Uncle Mondo come by and pour water down our backs so we can cool off for a few seconds.
Dancing in the parades with DC reminds me what I love about my hometown and that I've been lucky to grow up surrounded by an art form enough to really appreciate it, even if I'm not the greatest of dancers. Yes, polkaing down the street with a walker dressed up as an old lady isn't something you see everyday, but when you see it and are a part of it with some really awesome people, it's one of the best feelings ever.