Why women's Mardi Gras dance groups have naughty names: Answers for newbies

'Tis the season of the dancing double entendres. Between the floats, during many major parades you'll encounter women's troupes with eyebrow-raising names such as the Pussyfooters, The Camel Toe Lady Steppers, the Bearded Oysters, the Muff-A-Lottas, the NOLA Cherry Bombs, the Organ Grinders, and TAP DAT.

Within each dubious dance group title flickers a glimmer of plausible deniability. Muffulettas are merely Decatur Street sandwiches, after all. Tap is a style of dance, organs are musical instruments, camels are bumpy desert animals ... that have toes. It could all be perfectly literal and innocent. Salacious interpretations of the women's marching groups' names could simply be a measure of one's own immaturity.

But probably not.

Camille Baldassar founded the first of the dancing double entendres, the Pussyfooters, back in 2000. A Pittsburgh native, Baldassar was new to Mardi Gras parades. As she and friends watched the synchronized, high-stepping, high school dancers in the Thoth parade, she mused: "Wouldn't it be fun to do that?"

Thus, the idea for a marching group for grownup women began to take form. But what should the nascent troupe be called?

Coincidentally, Baldassar said, "The Vagina Monologues," an audacious play about female identity, was peaking in popularity at the time. The play dealt with taboo topics of women's anatomy in a way that was subversive and empowering.

As Baldassar and her dance krewe co-planners cast around for a title, "The Vagina Monologues" became woven into the discussion. Then there was a eureka moment.

"Somebody just said it. 'How about the Pussyfooters?'" Baldassar recalled. "And we were all just like, 'Yes.' It was unanimous."

The name was genius. It had some of the polemical punch of "The Vagina Monologues." But, as Baldassar explained, it was also innocent. Pussyfooting means to walk gingerly around a topic. Heck, there's even a cute Warner Bros. cartoon kitten named Pussyfoot.

"It's in the eye of the beholder," Baldassar said of the Pussyfooters' duality. "We're not strippers; we're into empowering women to march. Some would say it's feminist; some would say we're just dancing in the street during Mardi Gras."

In 2001 the Pussyfooters made their first public appearances as part of the anything-goes Krewe du Vieux parade and the new all-women Muses parade. The group immediately became a pink wig-wearing prototype for other mostly female dancing groups, especially groups of younger women.

Baldassar said that from the beginning, the Pussyfooters had an age requirement. You had to be at least 30 to join.

"We just decided that it would be for older people who wanted to get out there and dance on the parade route," Baldassar said.

The Pussyfooters sometimes broke their own age-restriction rules, Baldassar recalled, but basically the troupe was for folks in their fourth decade and beyond. That stipulation left room for 20-somethings to emulate their older sisters.

"We definitely were inspired by the Pussyfooters," said Casey Love, co-founder of the Camel Toe Lady Steppers dance group that first paraded in 2003. "They were the originals; we give them complete credit for that."

The Camel Toe Lady Steppers started out as a group of college friends who planned to wear identical Halloween costumes, Love said. When the "awful" mail-order majorette outfits arrived, they proved to be a bit too snug in the wrong region.

But instead of shying away from the fashion faux pas, the friends decided to make it their own by naming themselves the Camel Toes. It was a feminist tradition to appropriate "phrases that had been made derogatory," Love explained. "We don't see it as a sexual term. We're not being on display."

(Note: We will not attempt to explain each of the various allusions in the Crescent City female dance group nomenclature. But rest assured, any terminology that you do not understand will be eagerly elucidated on the Internet.)

The rest of the group's nom de parade, Lady Steppers, was a nod to the names of some New Orleans second-line dance groups.

Love said that the whole formation process of the troupe was far from deliberate. One thing just seemed to lead to another. The Camel Toe Lady Steppers joined the Pussyfooters in the 2003 Muses parade. Love, who was 27 at the time, didn't have to wait to age into the older organization.

Likewise, artist Katrina Brees, who founded the Bearded Oysters in 2004, said that the Pussyfooters' age requirement left room for a younger dance group. In forming her artistically inclined troupe, she dispensed with subtlety entirely. The Oysters wear fake beards and exotic accessories known as merkins. ("Hello Siri, I have a delicate question...")

Brees noted the subversive feminist aspect of the name, and acknowledged that shock value was always part of the fun.

"We all do it for the attention," she said.

In the years since Hurricane Katrina, more winkingly ribald groups have sprung up. Some hold auditions to achieve a certain level of dance competence; others revel in the fact that coordination is a non-issue. Most are predominantly female, though others welcome other-than-female participants in various capacities.

In addition to dancing in the streets, many of the groups raise money for charities. In 2017, the Pussyfooters donated $38,000 to the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children. In the same year, the Organ Grinders helped collect 175 pints of blood at an annual blood drive. 

For a list of all the dancing double entendres ... all that we know of anyway, keep on scrollin'. 

Pussyfooters 

Founded in 2001, the Pussyfooters are the grande dame of the dancing double entendres. The 123 choreographed dancers, who must be age 30 or above, wear cotton-candy-colored wigs, white boots and various alluring accoutrements in between. In 2017 the troupe is expected to strut their stuff, so to speak, in the following parades: Cleopatra (Feb. 17), Femme Fatale (Feb. 19), Nyx (Feb. 22), Muses (Feb. 23) and Thoth (Feb. 26).

Camel Toe Lady Steppers 

Founded in 2003, the Camel Toe Lady Steppers appear exclusively in the Muses parade (rolling this year on Feb. 23). The Steppers revise their pink, black and silver costumes each year, according to spokeswoman Ashley Shabankareh, and select an annual dance style that can range from Bob Fosse to burlesque.

The 50 Steppers, who audition for a place in the troupe, took their name from an unintentionally revealing aspect of some mail-order majorette costumes. Shabankareh said that the troupe pays homage to the "women's Carnival spirit" of the Baby Dolls, a century-old female Carnival costuming tradition.

Bearded Oysters 

Founded in 2004, the Bearded Oysters are one of artist Katrina Brees' early performance art projects. The group, which now includes roughly 900 lifetime members, was founded "to induce a hunger for Louisiana oysters," Brees coyly claims.

Well, actually clams. A native of Massachusetts, Brees originally intended to call the group the Bearded Clams, after the more northern bivalve. But the abundance of oyster shells on the Gulf coast (which are the raw material of the group's painted throws) caused her to tweak the idea, she said.

The group colors are silver and white, Brees said, and each member wears a fake beard and a, shall we say, pelvic toupee. Male members are called "Shuckers," she said.

Look for the Oysters in the Krewe of Freret parade (Feb. 18), Muses (Feb. 23), and Tucks (Feb. 25).

TAP DAT 

Nikki Miner, founder of TAP DAT, is serious about tap dancing. Her 30-member troupe, established in 2008, dances constantly during appearances, she said, which makes it impossible to be included in the longer, stamina-sapping parades.

Miner said that the group's black-and-white costumes obviously tie into the "Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints" theme. Asked if there was anything more to the title, Miner said: "No, we're classy ladies ..." When playfully pressed, she said: "You're not going to get a straight answer out of me."

Muff-A-Lottas 

Founded in 2009, the Muff-A-Lottas adopted the personae of sassy 1950s diner waitresses, according to spokeswoman Anita "Chiquita" Oubre. The 50 members don saddle shoes and short skirts with "lots of crinoline" and dance to R&B-era tunes from New Orleans faves such as Ernie K-Doe and Irma Thomas. The troupe's name is a -- some would say -- suggestive variation on the the muffuletta sandwich, and their motto is "All You Can Eat."

The Muff-A-Lottas will be taking orders at the following parades: Cleopatra (Feb. 17), Krewe of Pontchartrain (Feb. 18), Nyx (Feb. 22), and Tucks (Feb. 25).

Organ Grinders

Christina McClasky Duggar founded the 125-member Organ Grinders in 2010. Inspiration for the dance group occurred, she said, while listening to Prince's "Violet the Organ Grinder" in the shower. Literally speaking, organ grinders are street musicians who hand-crank a music box (organ), while a monkey cavorts for tips. Duggar envisioned a troupe of satirical fez-wearing mostly female dancers, also known as "Sexah Monkeys" attended by mostly male "Monkey Spankers."

"It all came to me before I finished washing my hair," she said.

This year, the group will be grinding during the Druids parade (Feb. 22), Muses (Feb. 23), and Tucks (Feb. 25).

NOLA Cherry Bombs 

Founded in 2011, the NOLA Cherry Bombs base their identity on the song "Cherry Bomb" by the 1970s women rockers The Runaways. According to spokeswoman Porscha Williams, the 30 Bombs costume in an alluring combo of white tank tops, red tutus, and black boots. Their soundtrack features mostly female vocals, from Beyonce to the Sleigh Bells, she said, and the attitude is "fierce," with a touch of "kitsch."

"We have played up the double entendre (of the title)," Williams said. "In feminism, the reclaiming of terms has always been a part of the movement; it goes back decades. It's part of the empowerment."

Look for the NOLA Cherry Bombs in the King Arthur parade (Feb. 19), Muses (Feb. 23), and Iris (Feb. 25).

The Krewe of King James: Super Bad Sex Machine StrollersThe Krewe of King James: Super Bad Sex Machine Strollers (Photo courtesy the The Krewe of King James: Super Bad Sex Machine Strollers) 

Exceptions that prove the rule

The list of Pussyfooter-style titillating titles has come to an end, but there are a few more mostly female (with one exception) dance groups that seem to fit the good-naturedly bawdy bill.

Roux La La

When the 25-member dance troupe was founded in 2010, the membership considered adopting a comically anatomical title like some of the other groups, said member Joanna Wilson, "but we wanted to do something a little different." So the group chose a cheeky allusion to that most fundamental Louisiana culinary touchstone, the roux (a flavorful gumbo thickening agent made with flour and oil).

The La Las may have forsaken an anatomical double entendre, but a dash of spiciness persists in the troupe logo, which, Wilson explains, "depicts a girl coming out of a roux pot, who kind of doesn't have any clothes on."

Look for Roux La La to stir things up during the King Arthur parade (Feb. 19), Nyx (Feb. 22), Morpheus (Feb. 24) and Thoth (Feb. 26).

The Star-Steppin' Cosmonaughties

Any story titled "Why women's Mardi Gras dance groups have naughty names" is honor-bound to include the the Star-Steppin' Cosmonaughties. Co-captain Stephanie Stromath, said the 41-member group first paraded in 2012.  Affiliated with the outer space-oriented Krewe de Lune, the dancers are accompanied by giant alien creature puppets.

Asked why the group's name was based on the term cosmonaut instead of astronaut, Stromath replied that the root word cosmic "sounds cuter than astro. Cosmic sounds more glittery."

Look for the glittering group in the Pygmalion parade (Feb. 18), Nyx (Feb. 22), and "somewhere between St. Claude Avenue and Royal Street" on Mardi Gras morning (Feb. 28). 

The Krewe of King James: Super Bad Sex Machine Strollers

Founded in 2014 by WWOZ host DJ Soul Sister (Melissa Weber), the Krewe of King James is a marching homage to the legendary "Godfather of Soul" James Brown. Though the group does not have a double entendre title, it was conceived "in the style of other fun marching krewes like the Camel Toe Lady Steppers, the Pussyfooters, the Cherry Bombs, and others," according to an email from DJ Soul Sister.

Sure, the name of the group has playfully lustful overtones, but Weber said "The Sex Machine Strollers (title) is just strictly for fun; it has nothing to do with anything salacious."

The Sex Machine Strollers, she explained, are distinguished from the other troupes in this list in at least two ways. The group has a larger percentage of male participants and the group emphasizes freestyle dance as well as choreography. 

Grammy-winning bassist and James Brown devotee Christian McBride will march with the Super Bad Sex Machine Strollers during the Krewedelusion Parade (Feb. 11).

What's your view: Are the suggestive titles righteous or just plain wrong, wrong, wrong?

Drop your opinion into the comment stream below. Or send your views to dmaccash@nola.com. If possible, I'll post them on NOLA.com. Also, if we overlooked any dancing double entendres, please send us the necessary info; we'll add them to the list.