In 2010, school librarian and perennial parader Ann Marie Coviello started Ladies Make Parades, a project centered around writing a piece exploring the women in New Orleans' walking-parade culture. But as she began meeting women through the project, she realized her interest didn't lie in documentation.
"What I really wanted to do was put on a parade," she says. "That's what I do. Writers write — I parade."
Co-founder of the 6t'9 Social Aid & Pleasure Club and one of the founders of the Box of Wine walking parade, Coviello decided to step out on her own and create the women-only walking parade YeMaYa. The parade makes its debut Saturday, Nov. 5, in conjunction with Ladyfest New Orleans.
Now in its fifth year, organizers of Ladyfest — the nonprofit festival showcasing female musicians and artists — hoped to include a nighttime parade in its slate of events. What they needed was a veteran parade organizer to pull it off.
"I've marched in a zillion parades but never organized one. Ann Marie was a total dynamo and came to the rescue," says Roselyn Lionheart, founder of Ladyfest New Orleans and one-half of the music group David & Roselyn. "I'm thrilled at this idea. It just fits so perfectly with the Ladyfest consciousness."
More than 25 women's parading groups will march in YeMaYa, named after the motherly Yoruban sea goddness said to protect women, children and the ocean.
"It was really in my heart to say 'What would it be like if it was all women?'" Coviello says. "I'm a feminist, and there's that idea of a women's place and a women's space. What would that feel like if it was on the street?"
Another YeMaYa organizer is Beth Manley, founding member of the Cameltoe Lady Steppers, one of the city's first women's marching groups and likely the inspiration for the subsequent proliferation of similar organizations.
"I've really enjoyed attending the meetings and getting caught up with a bunch of really extraordinarily amazing women who are powerful and really go-getters in their own particular areas," Manley says.
The parade begins at Buffa's Bar & Restaurant on Esplanade Avenue and ends with a party at The Maison on Frenchmen Street. The Cameltoe Lady Steppers, Lady Buckjumpers, the Pussyfooters, the Bearded Oysters, the Sirens of New Orleans and others will join the parade; women from New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling will provide "parade management and security," and a "a group of radical doulas with a choir singing songs to Yameya" will participate. Bands include The Local Skank, Skin 'n' Bones Gang and Mo'Lasses. Women from some of the stores where paraders find their costumes and accoutrements will ride on a carriage in the procession.
"The chance to honor those women means a lot, because we really couldn't parade without them," Coviello says. "What would we do without our false eyelashes, our 15-inch plumes, our fabulous lace and our super-microfine glitter?"
Although paraders are women, with the exception of some "essential men" allowed to participate, Coviello says men are certainly invited to watch.
"We hope that a lot of wonderful men will come out and wave and cheer us on and see 500 of New Orleans most beautiful women walking down the street together in fabulous costumes," she says.
6 p.m. Nov. 5
Starts at Buffa's (1101 Esplanade Ave.) and ends at The Maison (508 Frenchmen St.)