The House of Dance and Feathers is a museum of New Orleans’ street culture, founded in the Lower Ninth Ward in 2003 by Ronald W. Lewis. A self-made documentarian and cultural ambassador, Lewis was among the foremost authorities on the city’s parading traditions. He was the president of the Big Nine Social Aid and Pleasure Club, a member of Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and a designer and producer of decorative elements used by several other clubs in their annual second line parades. Dan Baum profiled him in the book Nine Lives.
Lewis was also part of the North Side Skull and Bone Gang, which reinvigorated a Carnival organization that traces its roots back to the 19th century. The Bone Gang is among the first groups to hit the streets when the sun rises on Mardi Gras morning. They set out dressed as skeletons to remind waking Treme residents of their mortality and, sometimes with actual animal bones and bloody meat, warn them about the consequences of earthly vice.
The original House of Dance and Feathers flooded in 2005 when the Industrial Canal levee gave during Hurricane Katrina. With help from nonprofit and community partners, it reopened a year later in a new structure behind Lewis’ home and became a regular stop for journalists, volunteers, philanthropists, and tourists. The collection featured photos of and artifacts from second-lines and Mardi Gras Indian celebrations curated by Lewis, who shared stories about them and their social context.
Tragically, Lewis passed away in March 2020 of the coronavirus.
Tootie's Last Suit by Lisa Katzman, with Executive Producers Randy Fertel and Alexa Georges. Buy the DVD.
Video from TruThoughtsRecords.
"Ghost Town" by Hot 8 Brass Band
"Spirit Leads My Needle: The Big Chiefs of Carnival," a half-hour documentary from the Mardi Gras Indian Council.