By Robert Mills

The award for busiest dance floor in Berkeley could easily go to Ashkenaz. In fact, the 38-year-old music and dance community center has claimed such designations in the past.

Last Saturday the floor was particularly packed thanks to the zydeco stylings of Mark St. Mary and company – also recognized as “The Best Zydeco Band” by the Bay Area Blues Society in 2007.

Northern California’s “King of the Delta” — as he was crowned in Isleton in 2003 — came equipped with his hotrod-red accordion ready for a good time. His only mandate, “let’s have a party,” was a command he issued several times throughout the night. And the crowd obliged.

Fifty somethings reigned supreme that night, spinning, shaking and two-stepping. A handful of others represented the 20-something group, but guests checked any ageism at the door. When the lights went out and the rub board started scratching, all the dancers blurred together.

The band had that sort of power, inducing a sense of down-home Americana. As soon as St. Mary’s accordion pushed out its first breath of air, everyone in the crowd was transported to southern Louisiana, shuffling for space to two-step or waltzing across the floor counter-clockwise and in unison like one massive life form.

The band was tight, with all the calm and cool of award-winning veterans. Each member played seamlessly, throwing out an occasional head bob or grin to an appreciative audience. St. Mary’s bluesy, longing vocals mixed seamlessly with the group’s upbeat chord progressions.

Dan Concalves, who frequents Berkeley venues, said the zydeco dancing left him feeling particularly youthful. “This is a middle-aged transformation,” he said. “And it’s all due to the company and the music. It’s like a pill.”

The zydeco veteran St. Mary said he felt youthful as well. “I’m already retired,” St. Mary said smiling backstage. “I’m one of the longest running guys that’s been out here, and I’ll be out here until I retire again.”

Robert A. Mills is a graduate student studying interactive journalism at The Reynolds School of Journalism at The University of Nevada, Reno. He is currently interning at Berkeleyside.

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