This presentation is part of the Dance Halls, Juke Joints, and Honky Tonks Symposium, March 22-23, 2016. This symposium focuses on the issues associated with the preservation of dance halls and similar sites throughout the rural South. Some of the constant threats include relevancy, development pressures, deterioration, and financial viability. This symposium brings together experts and enthusiasts to discuss history, architecture, and culture associated with these buildings.
From the Ground Up, Key Points and Lessons Learned from Opening, Operating and Closing a Dancehall by Bernard Pearce
I can offer first person experience in founding, opening, and the operation of several dance halls, music venues located in Lafayette, Louisiana. My talk would focus on the business and political aspects of operating these establishments. Also my experience with licensing and alternatives with in the context of licensing and permitting.
Recently the closing of Slims Y Ki Ki in Opelousas, Louisiana brought to the fore how pressing the issue of cultural erosion is impacting the region. As a non academic and strictly a participant in the cultural community of which we focus…one would hope that preservation would incorporate a living breathing and continued practice of all manner and customs. Dancing, music, language… it seems that there should be a marriage of the two.. documentation, the capture of content, and the continued support of the culture as it exists as it evolves as a living practice.
As a child I recall spending many hours sitting underneath the lip of a dance hall bar in Parks, Louisiana.. the cigarette smoke floating above my head like a pungent fog that filled the room.. I was only knee high to my uncle who brought me into the dance hall, I entertained myself while he had a drink and a smoke.. I remember the music and the deep bass of the kick drum…resonating with my heart.. the zydeco beat pounding in my chest…
The Preservation of the buildings most of which are poorly built, seem to be an empty pursuit.. like the husk of a cicada left clinging to a tree.. empty, hollow, transparent, useless really.. These are no grand cathedrals or architectural monuments. Although I am rather found of the structure that I personally help to rescue from demolition. It was once a Montgomery Wards warehouse located just outside of the Central Business District of downtown Lafayette, Louisiana. It later became the home of Broussard’s Feed and Seed Store in the 1930’s.. then became a storage building and hay barn when the Broussard’s built a new building adjacent to the original building. I came into possession of the building as a renter in 1997… and it was later purchased by my partner Andy Cornet in 2005.. Andy restored the building and I managed the licensing of the property to bring it up to current code.. we did so with out making any major structural or cosmetic changes to the original building.. What was most significant about the structure was that it had great acoustics, cathedral like structure with ceilings approximately 40-50 feet at the apex…and a 30 by 50 foot area.. hard wood floors.. which is a necessity for the dancers of the region. The success of a good dance hall depends on the dancability of it’s floor.. preferred by zydeco and cajun dancers are
polished hardwood floor, on which one can glide across with ease..
Bernard Pearce was born and raised in St. Martin Parish. He has been a musician and artist for the majority of his life. His experience with the dance hall began when his parents bought the Deviller Club in Grand Bois, Louisiana. The family used the space for family events however the venue had a long history of being the site of zydeco and cajun music dances for years before the family purchased the property. He is currently working on a culinary memoir and is the author of a newly released collection of verse and images entitled “The Deed to My Bones”.