The word, “dance,” is as much a part of our Cajun language and heritage as gumbo, Mardi Gras, and the phrase, “Comment ca va?” Babies learn to cut a rug as soon as they take their first steps, and grandparents proudly showcase their jitterbugging talents anytime a song with a fiddle or accordion plays.
But what if a physical tragedy suddenly stops a person who has danced all their life? Where would they find the courage to get back out on the floor? Where would they find the strength?
Beatrice Bertrand Herbert, an eighty-six year old great grandmother, who started dancing as a child, found herself in this situation about three years ago. When she was leaning over to pick something up off of the floor in her Kaplan home, she fell and broke the ball in one of her hips.
“I didn’t want to stop dancing,” Herbert says. “But my hip hurt so much, I didn’t think I’d ever dance again.”
After her fall, Herbert spent a week in the hospital, where a surgeon replaced the ball in her hip. She went through a rehabilitation program for two weeks, and after about a month was able to walk again.
“I wanted to be active,” Herbert said. “If I would have stayed sitting in that wheelchair, I might not be walking today.”
About six months after Herbert’s fall, her friend, Alex Mire took her to a dance at The Sunset in Kaplan. One of her favorite musician’s, Donnie Broussard, was playing, and Herbert felt it was time to get back on the dance floor.
“I was scared,” she said. “But I found the will power to be the person I am.”
Herbert’s advice to someone who finds his or herself in a wheelchair is to not stay still. We all have the courage inside of us to attempt the challenges we face, even if they seem impossible.
“I always try to do whatever I want,” says Herbert. “If I can’t do it, at least I know I tried.”
While I interviewed Herbert and her friend, Alex Mire, the two of them spoke to each other in French. They seemed to be as Cajun as one could be, but not because they used words like, “chanter,” (to sing) and “danser” (to dance). But because of their sheer toughness, and determination to not let anything stand in the way from living life.
It’s an aspect of my own heritage for which I am very proud, but sometimes forget. Mire and Herbert reminded me that even I, a forever wimpy kid, shouldn’t let what may seem as obstacles prevent me from using the physical and mental strength given to me by my parents, and the brave men and women who first created their own world in Louisiana.
“Where did you find the strength to have that first dance with Mr. Mire?” I asked Herbert.
“Love,” she replied. “It will keep me dancing until the day I die.”