Pussyfooters rally: Roberta Grove’s ‘La Vie de Ville’ column, March 21, 2013

Pussyfooters step up for sister in need

By Roberta Grove

Special to The Advocate

Advocate photo by ROBERTA GROVE -- Members of the Pussyfooters Marching Club surround  Lydia Benson. Front row, from left: Christy Hackenber, Mary Mahone, Denise Gerarve, Deborah Thebald, Dawn Kaiser,  Kat Ford, and Donielle Gerarve. Middle row, from left: Celeste Gilbert, Lisanne Brown, Lydia Benson, Becky Gelpi, Lorraine Summers, Shaunna Martine, Tamara Bay,  Beverly House. Back row, from left:  Lisa Cressionne,  Keith Gelpi, Debra Voelker,  Caroline Bozier,  Cindy Williams, Mandy Brown, and Chad Anderson.
Advocate photo by ROBERTA GROVE -- Members of the Pussyfooters Marching Club surround Lydia Benson. Front row, from left: Christy Hackenber, Mary Mahone, Denise Gerarve, Deborah Thebald, Dawn Kaiser, Kat Ford, and Donielle Gerarve. Middle row, from left: Celeste Gilbert, Lisanne Brown, Lydia Benson, Becky Gelpi, Lorraine Summers, Shaunna Martine, Tamara Bay, Beverly House. Back row, from left: Lisa Cressionne, Keith Gelpi, Debra Voelker, Caroline Bozier, Cindy Williams, Mandy Brown, and Chad Anderson.

If you live in or near New Orleans, chances are you’ve heard of the all-female marching club called the Pussyfooters. And if you have seen them perform, you won’t soon forget this hot-pink collection of dynamos whose primary mission in life is to get their groove on and to inspire women everywhere to do the same.

The group was born over a decade ago by one woman’s love of majorettes. Yes, we’re talking those white-booted, sequined-costumed, high-strutting high school marching ensembles that are as much a part of the local band scene as drum majors and tubas.

The Pussyfooters are now more than 100 strong. And here’s a wonderful thing about them: All of the members are over the age of 30. In fact, don’t even think about signing on if you haven’t yet reached that milestone.

Over the years, these Sisters from the Mothership have marched in countless Mardi Gras parades, participated in celebratory events throughout the area, and donated their collective talents to an endless array of fundraising events that support and empower women.

Little did they realize a year ago how much one of their own members would soon need their support as she prepared to face cancer.

I first met Princess Lydia Benson about three years ago while covering an event where the group was performing. I clearly remember feeling their energy and wild abandon, the expression of pure joy that inspired everyone in the room as women of all ages, cultural origins and body types celebrated their womanhood.

Even in that room at that moment, one woman stood out. Towering over the group was a statuesque cotton-candy-pink-haired Pussyfooter prancing around in her white marching boots. Standing at least 6 feet tall, Lydia Benson greeted me with a huge smile, hugged me and thanked me for being there.

Recently the Pussyfooter Mothership rallied around Princess Lydia with a day of events that included a walk, a second-line parade, and a block party outside the old Milan Lounge in Uptown New Orleans.

Leading them all in a hot-pink gown, second-line umbrella and tiara was Lydia Benson, still sporting the same warm smile.

You could feel the love of sisterhood that day as her friends donated their goods and services in an effort to support Benson’s medical fund.

At this event, pink power came in the form of Milan Lounge owner, Dave McCammon, who donated the day’s proceeds to the cause; the Lady Rollers Social Aid & Pleasure Club, who served up hearty portions of Yakamein; the artists who showed up to donate sales of their wares for Lydia’s care; members of the Paradise Tumblers who kept the music and the party going; members of the Pussyfooters who gave much more than just one day to help their sister in need; and the countless walkers, runners and other supporters.

What a day! As I hugged Lydia and congratulated her on her remarkable achievements, we both knew that her journey was not yet complete.

Every day thousands of women like Lydia embark along the same path, that of facing the challenges of cancer recovery with little or no health insurance.

To learn more about the Pussyfooters, go to http://www.pussyfooters.org. While you are there, why not reach out and support one of our own?

La Vie de Ville captures city life New Orleans style every Thursday in The Advocate New Orleans Community News Section. Send information on your upcoming event to robertagrove@hotmail.com.