New Orleans and Mardi Gras has fascinated me since my first trip to the Crescent City for Mardi Gras in 2008. While many people associate beads, booze, balconies and Bourbon Street with it, some local friends (thankfully!) exposed me to a rich tradition and history, particularly in the African-American community, that has nothing to do with “showing tits” for plastic trinkets.
When I returned to New York after that trip, I learned a bit about the sassy Baby Dolls in the documentary, All On A Mardi Gras Day, about black Mardi Gras, but I never found too much else. Fast forward to September, 2011: I heard Millisia White, founderof the New Orleans Society of Dance, on the New Orleans local radio station WWOZ (I listen online) discuss their upcoming 2012 Baby Dolls Centennial. They were looking for “women of excellence” to mask with them for Mardi Gras and join them throughout the year. I reached out to Millisia…and Chicava HoneyChild and I were chosen! We represented our own sassy troupe of women of color, Brown Girls Burlesque.
Though I’ve watched the parade before (and jumped for coconuts), being a part of this historic tradition was pure magic. I was out of breath and my feet hurt from walking almost 3 miles (and on 2 hours of sleep, no less), but the excitement of the people–especially the children–fueled me. And I knew I had to come back and share the herstory and present of the Baby Dolls to show a different side of Mardi Gras. There’s more than the debauchery that’s highlighted on TV–there’s a powerful history, especially of the Black women who are Mardi Gras legends.
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