A toe-tapping city welcomes everyone to dance their blues away.
Deep in the heart of Cajun country is the small city of Houma (pronounced “home-a”), home to historic, stately homes, swamplands, and 32,000 people who just might ask you to dance.
If you find yourself in town and need your faith in humanity restored, head to the Jolly Inn Cajun Dance Hall. That’s where Camie Crochet, a former resident, took friends visiting from Iowa one Friday night.
“When we walked through the door, we were enthusiastically greeted by a man who introduced himself by the name Al E. Gator. Cajun decor covered the walls and elderly couples were already dancing. The regulars couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming,” says Crochet. “An announcement was made from the stage welcoming the Iowans and encouraging them to ‘pass a good time.’ We sat there for a few minutes, watching the dancers. They didn’t let us sit there for long though. People kept approaching our table, asking us to dance. They gave us two-step lessons with such natural ease that we felt like expert two-steppers by the end of the night.”
The invitations don’t end there. Residents have been known to invite visitors into their homes to share a bowl of gumbo or for a crawfish boil—a taste of Cajun culture served up with Southern hospitality.
Anne Parr, president of Bayou Grace (a volunteer organization working to preserve Louisiana’s bayous), can’t take her volunteers around without them getting invited away for a meal. “You can’t go out anywhere without talking to everyone. That’s just how we are here,” she says.
“We meet no strangers in Bayou Country,” says local Joni Duet, who nominated Houma. “Once you’re here, you’re family.”
Locals here are delighted to share where to a grab bowl of gumbo “just like maw maw makes,” inviting you onto the dance floor to share in a dance cheek-to-cheek while listening to Cajun music, or simply just taking the time to share a conversation.
More often than not, when speaking to travelers passing through, when asked what was their favorite experience here in Houma, the answer is always the same—the people. We’ve heard countless stories of locals inviting visitors to their homes to partake in a crawfish boil or to share a bowl of homemade gumbo, going out of their way to ensure those visiting with us get to experience first-hand true authentic Cajun culture and Southern hospitality, answering questions for passersby about “the houses on stilts” and “what’s that you’re catching?” On many Friday nights at the Jolly Inn Cajun Dance Hall, I’ve personally witnessed locals walk up to tables of visitors to invite them on the dance floor for a Cajun dance lesson and night of cutting a rug, sharing stories the four walls of the old local hang out holds and assisting them on what perfect dish will pair with that ice cold beer they’re enjoying. I, myself, have seen tables of visitors in local restaurants completely perplexed on how to peel a crawfish, shrimp, or Louisiana blue crab and have found myself sitting with a group of strangers to give lessons to enjoy their meal.
Hospitality and kindness are so deeply embedded into our Cajun culture that it’s effortless by nature. We meet no strangers in Bayou Country. Once you’re here, you’re family.