Second Line Tradition in New Orleans
The United States of America is a melting pot of diverse cultures woven together to form a unique and awe-inspiring cultural identity that attracts millions of visitors from all corners of the world. The fabric of American culture is a sprinkle of a great number of unique traditions intricately woven to form a single cultural fabric. There is more that unites the fifty states and over five territories than geopolitical boundaries. Few cities embody this cultural uniqueness of the U.S. more than New Orleans — a commercial, social, and cultural hub in Louisiana renowned for its vibrant and raucous cultures. Nestled along the mighty Mississippi River, the Big Easy, as it is fondly known, is a cultural confluence of epic proportions. New Orleans’ cultural identity was being forged for several centuries as different traditions from Africa, France, and America converged to form distinctive cultural practices. One such practice is the second line tradition — a quintessential tradition that radiates the cultural vibrancy of New Orleans and Louisiana at large.
The second line tradition is a traditional dance with trademark moves and elements that are unquestionably unique to the city. The dance parade is marked by swirling of handkerchiefs and brass bands. Hats, banners, and bonnets accentuate the pomp and color during the dance that traces its roots to West Africa. The parades are not complete without the brightly colored clothes and parasols worn by the participants. The dancing is always a jubilant affair with the uniquely decked performers bursting out in energetic dances to give the processions a party feel. The vivacious parades are incomplete without the bellowing sound of a trumpet or tuba. Drums also accompany the parade. It is an inclusive and participatory cultural event open for all and sundry despite the seemingly uniformed performers (Turner, 2009; McNulty, n.d.).
Performed during various processions such as weddings, a second line parade is always a beehive of activities that extend beyond the organized strutting. It is a vendor’s haven, and participants have the chance to savor delicacies and soft drinks. Beers and barbecued meat are at a premium during the processions (Turner, 2009). It has spread to other states including North Carolina (Marshall, 2015).
The spontaneity of second-line traditional parades extends beyond the wild dances and is also embodied in other interesting and exciting elements. The colorfully dressed, sash-swirling, gyrating, and energetic dancers and trumpeters usually pop up unannounced at street corners and blocks to delight the crowds. To keep up with this unique trend, the dances usually disappear as soon as they begin. Additionally, jubilant crowds can enjoy the culturally laden events during organized festivals. Organized and hosted by various organizations including neighborhood sociocultural ones, second line traditional dances are common during summer but can be enjoyed all year round (McNulty, n.d.).
While many cities document their history, cultures, and traditions in museums, history books, and various artifacts, New Orleans stands out as one of the few societies the cultures and traditions of which are expressed through parades and dance moves. New Orleans’ cultural heritage is embodied in second line traditional dance — a culturally rich event that pops up across various streets and blocks in New Orleans. It is a unique cultural practice that has spread beyond New Orleans to other states across the country.
Marshall, A. (2015). “First rate Second Line: Asheville’s Mardi Gras marching band.” Retrieved from https://mountainx.com/arts/first-rate-second-line-ashevilles-mardi-gras-marching-band/
McNulty, I. (n.d.). Block parties in motion: The New Orleans second line parade. Retrieved from http://www.frenchquarter.com/secondline/
Turner, R. B. (2009). Jazz religion, the second line, and Black New Orleans. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.