A New Merry-Making Marching Club - The Raw Oysters
-This month - a sassy new group of marching women took to the streets for the first time on Lundi Gras to rave reviews.
Although 2015 marked the second year the Krewe of the Seahorse paraded through Bay St. Louis on Lundi Gras, the parade featured a dance team making its debut performance. The Raw Oyster Marching Club bedazzled the crowd along the route, with the spirits of spectators and dancers dampened only by a downpour as the parade neared the end of its route.
Talk of the Town
Butler owns the French Potager in Old Town Bay St. Louis where she sells antiques and her distinctive flower arrangements. She’s an active member of the community and serves on the board of The Arts, Hancock County. Yet, the first time the club marched on February 16th, she wasn’t sure how the public would respond to a glittery dance team of feisty women flaunting costumes of red and gold.
“We were a huge hit!” Butler says. “In less than one week following the Seahorse parade, we had over 500 ‘likes’ on our Facebook page. We were also featured in almost every media outlet on the Mississippi gulf coast.”
That same evening, the group also received invitations to march in both Jackson’s and Waveland’s St. Patrick’s Day parades. Schedule conflicts forced them to decline the Jackson gig this year, but it’s clear the Raw Oyster Marching Club is going places. Lots of places.
It’s also growing - the group is up to forty-five members now. Thirty of the group marched with Seahorse and twenty will be marching in the Waveland parade on March 14th. Butler says that having forty-plus members assures a good group will commit to any parade they’re asked to join.
Costumer Laura Kidd (who creates costume headdresses professionally) also takes her job seriously. The red and gold costumes for the premier performance lit up the evening parade, but the group’s opting for a costume change for the upcoming Waveland event, when they’ll wear gold dresses and green wigs in honor of the club’s first queen, fabled dancer Kitty West.
West became nationally renowned for her “Evangeline, the Oyster Girl” dance she choreographed and performed for decades, beginning in the late 1940s in New Orleans. The show told the story of Evangeline, who slept in an oyster shell in the swamps of Louisiana and rose once every hundred years to seek her beloved. West’s performances drew Hollywood greats like Frank Sinatra and Richard Widmark to the French Quarter and became so legendary that the dance routine is a popular draw even today in both Texas and New Orleans venues, nearly seven decades after it originated.
Butler had read about Kitty West in a book two years before and had been excited to learn later that the retired dancer lived in the Bay area. She also found stunning vintage photographs of West and her oyster shell stage prop.
“I was looking for a theme for the club that would be locally relevant,” says Butler. “West is iconic in the entertainment field and oysters are such a part of the culture here, so it all seemed a perfect fit.”
West, who has been featured twice in Life magazine, says “I want to be able to try to help these young girls coming up who want to get out there and dance. I want them to be artistic and to have class.”
The term “young girls” is relative. The age of Raw Oyster Marching Club members ranges from 21 to 65-plus years old. Yet according to a bevy of comments on the group’s Facebook page, everyone’s having a blast. Consider this one, from Bay St. Louis resident Connie Pace:
“It's fun! Freeing! Diverse! As we danced down the streets, it became this energetic fireball that fueled the community and they began dancing along with us, having fun, even in the cold rain!”
“[It’s] Amazing to see that unfold. I'm falling in love with these high-spirited ladies of all ages, investing so much into the community. Dance, costumes, music, fun group... where else can one go for that?”