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Group dips dance scene in Cajun spice

Allons Danser Tampa Bay offers fans of Louisiana culture toe-tapping options.

Halfway through last weekend's Cajun Zydeco Crawfish Festival, after nearly 16 hours of mudbug fun, the diehards were not ready to call it quits.

As others headed home Saturday night, revelers made their way to Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill on Central Avenue, where 100 people danced the night away to zydeco music.

"It stirs my soul," explained Rita Thygeson of Tampa, as she tapped her feet to the beat.

The festival afterparty at Ferg's was the latest event held by Allons Danser Tampa Bay, a new social group for fans of Louisiana culture. Allons danser translates to "let's dance" in the cultural language of Southwest Louisiana, which is the center of all things Cajun and Creole.

Four months ago, it would have been impossible to get a taste of authentic Louisiana culture in the Tampa Bay area.

But that was before Cajun and zydeco music fans grew weary of local bars and clubs not playing the music they loved and decided to start their own bayou movement.

"The goal is to have more places to dance," said Jerry Carrier of Gulfport, Allons' founder and president. "That's all I am in it for."

Cajun music is a lively form of American folk music rooted in the culture of French Canadian immigrants in southwest Louisiana.

Spawned in sparsely populated bayou and prairie areas, the music once dominated house parties with its combination of fiddle, accordion and guitar sounds.

Zydeco, on the other hand, is like Cajun music's sassy, streetwise cousin. It is also a blend of French, Spanish, American and African music, but it leans more heavily on its Creole roots, with R&B and blues.

Both genres are accordion-based, but zydeco tends to be faster with heavy drum beats, electric guitars and the strumming of a frottoir, a metal washboard used as a percussion instrument.

In the past two decades, both genres have seen a revival in dance circuits across the Northeast and South. Clubs have sprouted in Boston, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, D.C.

But Tampa Bay area enthusiasts looking to two-step the night away have had limited options other than driving to Tallahassee, Gainesville, or Fort Lauderdale, where Cajun events are held more frequently.

When Carrier moved from Washington, D.C., to Gulfport four years ago, he was shocked that he would no longer be able to dance zydeco four nights a week.

He started inviting musicians from Louisiana to come play in the Tampa Bay area, allowing them to stay at his house to cut expenses. Each year after the Crawfish Festival, he has held a party at Ferg's, inviting friends to come and celebrate. But there never was an official event for others with similar interests.

Carrier and others created Allons Danser last year in an effort to raise money to bring in Cajun and zydeco artists, most of whom are based in Louisiana. The club's first event was held in Bradenton in December. By March, Allons had 100 members.

In the future, Allons members hope to create a Cajun and zydeco dance circuit from Fort Lauderdale to Tallahassee to provide more venues for Louisiana musicians.

But last week at Ferg's, thoughts of the future were set aside for more immediate necessities.

Even after it was announced that the band, Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys, had missed their flight and no other entertainment was available for the evening, the crowd refused to simmer down.

Fresh from the Crawfish Festival, Jerry Spanger walked around the bar searching for a woman to pull onto the dance floor. There are no wallflowers allowed when zydeco music is blaring. "If you have a brain, you can't help but dance to it," Spanger said. "You just can't."

Cristina Silva can be reached at (727) 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

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For more information on Allons Danser Tampa Bay, check out www.allonsdansertampabay.com.

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