Dance like everyone's watching 

AFTER 17 years of marriage, I know by now to get dressed for date night in secret.

It’s important to carry on the mystique, you understand, recreate the romance of our early courting and all that. And since this was the first time my husband had invited me to go out dancing since he treated my toe like a soccer ball during our pre-wedding foxtrot lessons, I really wanted to cultivate that “wow” factor.

Also, locking myself in the bathroom until he’s doing his Impatient Man Shuffle at the front door is the best way to avoid any guff about my ensemble until the last minute.

“OH MY GOD WHAT ARE YOU WEARING?” he hollered as I sashayed out of the bedroom in my new vintage royal blue velour jumpsuit.

“Too late! Uber’s here, gotta motor! Bye, kids!”

I’ll admit that I dressed to impress more than my man: We were off to Dancing through the Decades, the Savannah Black Heritage Festival fundraiser celebrating the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, and this girl does not go to a costume party without representing. I mean, there were going to be prizes, y’all!

House of Strut proprietor Erica Cobb Jarman helped me land solidly in the 80s with my fuzzy crayon-colored onesie, paired fiercely with a jeweled leather belt and distressed white pumps. (Loyal readers may recall that another blue jumpsuit figured prominently in a column a few years back; that one was satin. What can I say? When you find a look that works, you werk it.)

Erica even found a suede vest and skinny tie for my bae, though now he wasn’t sure he wanted to be seen with me.

“You’re making me really nervous with that outfit,” he murmured over pre-dance cocktails and empanadas at Rancho Alegre.

“I think I look stunning,” I sniffed, arranging my velour-clad tush on the bar stool so I wouldn’t slide off.

“Oh yeah, everyone’s stunned all right,” he said, taking a long sip of his margarita.

“Then my dance moves are gonna give y’all a heart attack,” I bandied, shimmying into the waitress.

He covered his face with his hands.

I think he was worried that I’d embarrass Tom Kohler, who was sharing our table for the evening. After all, this year Tom was the first non-African American to be named Grand Marshal of the MLK Day Parade, and my husband didn’t want him to lose cred by showing up with the wacky white lady in the bathrobe jumper.

“Oh, is that a costume? I didn’t realize,” Tom commented diplomatically as we clopped down the cobblestones to the Ralph Mark Gilbert Civil Rights Museum’s glorious multipurpose annex.

Turns out, I fit in just fine. Our pal Magic Marc Dunston was rockin’ the mic as emcee, and the dance floor was already full of folks who had pulled out the wide-lapel leisure suits and polyester paisley dresses to raise money for the cause:

Now in its 27th year, The Savannah Black Heritage Festival is presented by Savannah State University and the City of Savannah in conjunction with Black History Month, with 60+ events that extend over the past, present and future.

In addition to commemorating our national African American narrative, the festival honors Savannah’s particular stories and heroes that inform our lives here all year long.

This year’s theme, “Reflections of a Proud Legacy,” carries throughout the month with a multifarious array of free lectures, exhibits, concerts, art receptions, workshops and school programs. Some are celebratory, some solemn, each one providing a facet of the stirring, complex heritage of African American life in Savannah.

Beginning this week at Armstrong State University with a lecture by Dr. Amy Potter on the misrepresentations of Haiti in the media and a legal workshop about knowing one’s rights while interacting with police, the festival revs up with Friday’s free performance at the Civic Center by the internationally-acclaimed Lula Washington Dance Theatre (see interview on page 28.)

Other highlights include a jazz tribute to the late, great Ben Tucker on Feb. 10, a reception with SCAD honoree Carrie Mae Weems on Feb 16 and a salute to Louis B. Toomer, founder of Carver Bank, on Feb. 27.

On Feb. 11, former mayor and SSU scholar-in-residence Dr. Otis Johnson will explore the impact of the Weeping Time, the largest sale of enslaved people in U.S. history that tore apart hundreds of families on March 3, 1859 at the Ten Broeck race track near what is now Augusta Avenue. Illuminating Savannah’s role as a busy cog in the Atlantic slave trade not only commemorates that tragedy, but gives context to contemporary issues.

“What we try to do with the festival is to present an opportunity to learn and appreciate the depth of African American history on a broad level as well as how it applies locally, especially for young people,” says longtime SSU student advisor Shirley James, who has organized the festival since 2002.

Ms. James also heralds the eminent imprint of “honoree emeritus” W.W. Law, the postal worker and community leader who founded the local chapter of the NAACP as well as The Civil Rights Museum, the King-Tisdell Cottage and the Beach Institute African American Cultural Center. All three venues will host Law-related programs, and it’s not too late for youth groups to make their reservations.

The entire month is packed with education and entertainment, but next Saturday, Feb. 13 is the main event. Health screenings, arts and crafts, local musicians and family fun are on the bill at the Civic Center during the day, including storytelling with our man Magic Marc and a kids’ haircare session for dads.

Night brings the vintage rhythm and soul with Con Funk Shun and my all-around 80’s favorite crooning trio, Tony! Toni! Toné! (Don’t look for my blue jumpsuit at the show though; I’ve already maxed out my dry-cleaning budget.)

While Black History month focuses on aspects of African American life both jubilant and grave, Ms. James hopes to see as diverse an attendance at the Black Heritage Grand Festival Day as the other city-sponsored ethnic celebrations like the Asian Festival, the Latino festival and St. Patrick’s Day.

“It’s not just for us,” she reminds. “We enjoy those other festivals, and we invite everyone to learn and appreciate African American culture as well.”

That congeniality also applies to the dance floor, where our quartet was welcomed heartily on the night of the fundraiser. At first, my guy was thinking we’d hang towards the back and not draw too much attention to ourselves straight off, but that was impossible given that I looked like a shiny blue popsicle.

Tom, who knows that cred can only come after courage, agreed that we ought to plunge right into the fray.

Unfortunately, the fray disappeared when the DJ put on an obscure dissonant 70’s jam and everyone sat down. For a minute there we were, swaying awkwardly and absorbing the bemused grins until Sly and the Family Stone rescued us.

After that, some new friends swept us up into a Soul Train that lasted for hours and took us through the decades.

We hustled, we bumped, we dougied.

We did the electric slide, the bump and the nene.

We danced like everyone was watching, since you couldn’t really miss us anyway.

Tom and I even won a couple of coveted ribbons, and my husband had to concede that my outfit was a hit.

Next date night, however, I’m pretty sure he’ll just want to Netflix and chill.


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About The Author

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Jessica Leigh Lebos

Community Editor Jessica Leigh Lebos has been writing about interesting people, vexing issues and anything involving free food for more than 20 years. She introduces herself at cocktail parties as southern by marriage.

More by Jessica Leigh Lebos


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