Along the banks of the Bayou Vermilion rests the Vermilonville Living History Museum and Folklife Park, a large complex exhibiting various styles of historic buildings, a garden of healing plants, interesting exhibits, and master craftsman demonstrations. A visit during normal hours (Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), yields an impressive array of artisans scattered about the grounds, displaying traditional techniques ranging from cooking food, spinning cotton and weaving to woodworking and playing Cajun and Creole musictruly something of interest for everyone. One of Lafayettes premiere cultural attractions, Vermilionville also boasts a dancehall. The bal du dimanche, or Sunday dance, is held 1-4 p.m. weekly in the Performance Center. The building was modeled after an old time cotton gin and features a large wooden plank dance floor and a high ceiling with exposed beam rafters. The raised stage and modern sound system ensure that the band can be enjoyed from every seat in the house. The central dance floor is flanked on both sides with wooden tables and ladder-backed chairs (some of which were made by Cajun music legend D.L. Menard). The walls are adorned with colorful local quilts, the Acadian flag, and iconic images of local Louisiana music legends and storied dancehallsa subtle salute binding the past and present together. When weather permits, the rear walls can be folded away, creating an open-air barn feel that allows the music to fill the area around the hall. The traditional Cajun, Creole and Zydeco music offered by the bands that play at Vermilionville bring out a widely varying crowd. Locals and tourists, Creole cowboys in pressed jeans and big belt buckles, college-age girls in short denim skirts, cowboy shirts and boots, zydeco devotees in tie-dye, head bands, and sandals, and Paw-Paws in one piece jumpsuits and Maw-Maws with freshly set hair all crowd onto the dance floor at the same time. Its no wonderthe bands on the schedule are all crowd favoritesCreole legend Goldman Thibodaux, Swamp Pop crooner Warren Storm, zydeco headliners like Geno Delafose and French Rockin Boogie, classic Cajun groups like the Ray Abshire Band, as well as extremely popular younger groups like Bonsoir, Catin, The Revelers and Soul Creole all keep the dancers coming back for more. The dance floor begins to populate just after the band fires upsoon it is a waltzing mass moving in a large counterclockwise ring in time to the music. The men leading, an occasional pair of clasped hands rise above the crowd as a couple twirls. The corners of the floor are sometimes occupied by a dance lesson, a grandparent dancing with a child, or isolated couples that have opted out of the giant spinning swirl in favor of their own style of dance. This weekly event is one of the only all age, smoke-free dance experiences currently in Acadiana and possibly the whole state. A bar in the rear serves both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and sometimes food is offered for sale. The historic setting, spacious dance floor, community feel, and great music make a Sunday afternoon at Vermilionville a real treat.
John Sharp, a documentary filmmaker and folklorist, is the Assistant Director for Research at the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His 2011 film, Water on Road, deals with the natural and man-made issues facing the Native American community of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana. His current research and film project is Dancehalls of South Louisiana, for which he won the 2012 Louisiana Filmmaker award from Louisiana Economic Development. For more information on Sharp'scurrent project like him on Facebook or visit LouisianaDancehalls.com.
Posted: December 16, 2014 by John Sharp