If you’re planning a New Orleans wedding, you’ve surely come across photos of the fabulous second lines that traditionally follow New Orleans wedding ceremonies. The brass bands lead the umbrella-toting and handkerchief-waving wedding party through the streets dancing and singing and having a blast. But what’s the significance of a New Orleans Second Line? I think it’s important to understand the cultural significance behind this New Orleans tradition before booking one of your own.
The term “second line” refers to a tradition in parades organized by Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs. The “first line” refers to the main section of the parade, including a brass band and the members of the SAPC with the parading permit. The “second line” consists of the community, or those who follow along to enjoy the music and dance. The second line’s style of dance, called “second-lining,” has been called “the quintessential New Orleans art form.”
Originating from West African circle dances, the second line tradition was brought to New Orleans by enslaved Africans. The exaggerated strutting of second lining is similar to dances performed in Congo Square, where enslaved people would spend Sundays, their only day off.
These traditions continued throughout the Code Noir and Jim Crow eras in New Orleans. During the latter, African Americans formed Benevolent Societies and SAPCs when white insurance companies refused to cover free people of color and formerly enslaved people. These social organizations helped when their members got sick or needed assistance with burial costs.
Today, the second line tradition lives on through these same existing social clubs, and throughout the year in New Orleans you’ll find members strutting their neighborhoods, brass bands in tow, as street vendors sell BBQ plates, yaka mein, and other refreshments.
With the right permitting, these celebratory parades with music and dancing can be held for any event, including weddings. To learn more about this fascinating New Orleans tradition, visit the Backstreet Cultural Museum or the House of Dance and Feathers.
If you’re interested making your wedding a little more “New Orleans,” consider booking a second line. Here are a few of my favorite!
Knockaz Brass Band
Kinfolk Brass Band
Big Fun Brass Band
Check out this wedding that incorporates a second line into their wedding.