610 Stompers auditions draw dozens of 'ordinary men with extraordinary moves' to Frenchmen

It’s harder to get into the 610 Stompers than Tulane. In only four years, New Orleans’ all-male dance team has gone from zero to nearly 100 members. So many men want to join that organizers had to cap this weekend’s open auditions at 60 slots per day. At most 20 will be accepted; there could be as few as five or six new Stompers.

If you arrived at 8:30 a.m. Sunday for the 11 a.m. auditions, you were too late: Over 60 "ordinary men" were already lined up outside Maison on Frenchmen. Most sported a makeshift variety of sweatbands, athletic shorts, knee socks and moustaches in an attempt to look like a Stomper.

But looks mean nothing if men don’t have, as the group advertises, extraordinary moves. Stomper Jim Heneghan advised the prospects on what makes that certain je ne stomp quoi.

“Give us your all. Give us your passion. Go big,” he said. “Big is always good for the Stompers.”

If you make a mistake, just get back in the groove, he said. Be yourself. Be authentic.

Except don’t be yourself if your true self is best expressed by, shall we say, simulating a sexual move with the floor as receptive party. “Trust us,” Heneghan said. “It’s not sexy, it’s not funny and we have seen it a million times before.”

The 52-year-old doctor showed off his own individuality when he auditioned by standing on his head. Twice.

Men don’t need dance experience but “the ability to count to eight is important,” Heneghan said, to keep everyone more or less synchronized. And they need to be prepared to wear their blue shorts as tight as humanly possible.

“We walk that fine line," he said, "between a precision drill dance team and a bunch of fat guys flailing their arms about.”

The most devoted would-be Stomper Sunday was Paul Belknap, 31, who sat at the head of the line wearing navy athletic shorts so short you couldn’t see them under his laptop. Too excited to sleep, he got to Frenchmen at 5 a.m. as Maison’s last band was packing up.

This is Belknap’s second year auditioning. His failure last year taught him that “once you get up on stage you have to clear your mind and let your body take over,” he said.

Since the audition dance is set to the ‘80s Kenny Loggins hit “Danger Zone,” he got in the mood by watching “Top Gun” on his laptop.

Why were these men so eager to join a New Orleans dance team seemingly tailor-made for Super Mario Bros. fetishists?

The 610 Stompers are looking for you, if you've got the moves If you think you've the moves to be a 610 Stomper, head to auditions on Saturday, Aug. 17, and Sunday, Aug. 18, at The Maison, on 508 Frenchman St. in Marigny. Those who make it through the first round of auditions, return the following weekend for final tryouts before a panel of judges who will choose the next class of 610 Stompers. Don't want to try out? Just come by and watch the fun.

Lance Toups, 37 years old and 60th in line, said he liked to dance and to entertain people. Belknap wanted to give back to the community.

But mostly the auditioners seemed to have been struck by inspiration. When Heneghan saw the team at the Buddy D parade in 2010, “I just fell on the floor laughing at them,” he said. He wanted to be laughed at, too.

As did his 78-year-old dad, who auditioned Saturday.

Can you be a 610 Stomper if you were 40 years old in the '70s? Were those nearly octogenarian moves extraordinary? Two Stompers who saw the carnage said yes. “The entire room erupted,” one said.

Perhaps Heneghan senior will be back next week – without having to wake up at dawn. Callbacks are Aug. 25 at 10 a.m. at Maison.