It’s the most basic advice dispensed to Mardi Gras noobs: “Carnival is a marathon, not a sprint.” Meaning — pace yourself, young reveler, or you’ll crash like a strand of broken beads in the gutter.
But for many paraders, the advice is more literal. Members of walking and dancing troupes cover lots of ground during a parade. How much? Thoth’s route is more than six miles. Add another parade (or two or three) to the mix and you’re logging serious mileage, making Mardi Gras parades athletic events on par with the Crescent City Classic.
This is my fifth year parading, and I’ve figured out some tricks for getting the most out of the experience. Here’s what works for me — please feel free to share your own tips in the comments section.
1. Test out your parade gear ahead of time. Ideally, your troupe will do a few practice marches, but if not, you’ll want to take your costume and shoes for a spin. The parade is not the time to find out your boots blister your heels or your sequined halter top chafes your armpit.
2. Check out the weather and plan appropriately. If there’s rain on the forecast, wear waterproof mascara. If it’s cold, layer your tights.
3. Figure out your ride situation ahead of time. If you’re lucky enough to have a bus, I’m jealous of you. Otherwise, hit up a friend to drop you (and as many others as the car will hold) off at the lineup point. You’ll end the parade downtown. Good luck finding a taxi to shuttle you back Uptown if you left your car at the staging area.
4. Eat a big meal before the parade. You’ll probably have to line up two hours before the parade rolls, and the actual marching will take at least two to three hours. I like a peanut butter and honey sandwich on wheat, plus a banana and coffee. This meal came recommended to me by a marathon-running friend, and it’s the perfect mix of carbs and protein.
5. Pee before you leave the house. Pee in the port-o-potties by the staging area. Pee whenever you get a chance, because once the parade starts, it’s going to be tough to pee.
6. If you have to pee during the parade, float breakdowns are your best friend. There’s always at least one point when the parade stops for no discernible reason. Use this time to hit up the port-o-potties. If there’s a line, tell the crowds you’re marching and the masses will part. People are deeply respectful of paraders. Use the rest of the down time to drink or eat a snack. Impromptu dance parties are also welcome.
7. Drink, but don’t get drunk. Passing a drink around among friends is a good way to achieve this. When it comes to booze, I’m a fan of whiskey and water. The whiskey is great during cold weather and I like to think the water hydrates me. Unlike beer, it packs an alcoholic wallop and won’t send you running to the port-o-potty. Moderation is key here. You don’t want to forget your choreography. As far as illicit substances go, just keep in mind that they can make masked revelers seem super terrifying. Plan accordingly.
8. Break out of formation to hug your friends. This is contentious advice. My dance team captain would be pissed if I did this, but I don’t care*. Your friends will feel like rock stars and everyone who witnesses your embrace will be charmed. That's just sweet. More than sweet, it’s entertaining. And why else do people go to parades?
9. Save energy for these key areas: the viewing stand by Gallier Hall, the interstate overpass at Lee Circle and the final stretch on Canal Street. These spots draw huge crowds and you want to look on point.
10. Smile and make eye contact with people in the audience. This is a no-brainer, but really, smile the whole time, because there are cameras along the entire route, and you don’t want to look dour. It’s pretty easy to grin when thousands of people are cheering for you. In fact, you probably won’t be able to stop. Happy Carnival!
*If you see me, holler. I’m marching with Gris Gris Strut in Druids behind float 11, Krewe D’Etat behind float 10, and Thoth behind…I don’t know yet. Just look for the chick smiling and waving a huge gold flag.