The Mardi Gras Czar hit a nerve .
"The ratio of women's marching groups to live bands seems to have mushroomed in recent years," she wrote in her Times-Picayune column Feb. 17. Watching Nyx in 2016, "I wondered if the krewe simply forgot to book more than a few marching bands."
She proposed a new rule for parades: "the ratio must be 3 to 1, live music to recorded."
Orleans and Jefferson parishes have their own rules. A New Orleans Carnival parade legally must have at least seven school or military marching bands. Jefferson sets a minimum of three, with at least 10 live bands overall.
However, it's not clear that royalty, fines or fan outcry can change the Mardi Gras math that make the czar's ratio a tough problem to solve.
School marching bands are more popular than ever
Landry-Walker is marching in eight parades this year, according to Facebook. Carver High is playing 10, says spokeswoman Zoey Reed. St. Augustine is in 11, as per Facebook, marching in two Sunday.
But that's not enough to meet the demand. Several schools said krewes are banging down their doors.
"We've definitely gotten more (calls) over the last few years," Archbishop Rummel High spokesman Casey Cadella of Archbishop Rummel High. So has St. Aug's Marching 100, spokeswoman Melissa Duplantier said.
"There are just not enough marching bands per se to fill an entire parade. Especially when you have three parades on our night," Dionne Randolph of Muses summarized.
Education comes first, which shrinks the supply even more. Rummel usually marches in Babylon but declined for 2017 "because it's our exam week," Cadella said. (They're skipping Argus to go to Disney World.)
"A big concern of mine is not to march on a school night, since the night parades tend to go late which makes it a challenge for our students to be at their best the next morning," Brother Martin band director Dominick Caronna Jr. said.
Randolph feels the same way. Because Muses rolls late on a Thursday, "I try not to have a young kids group," she said. She stations school bands at the front so they finish earlier.
Finally, New Orleans has shuttered a few schools that once marched, including Miller-McCoy Academy and Sarah T. Reed High.
So when a new school joins the ranks, krewes jump on. This is Abramson Sci Academy's first year with a full marching band, Reed said. It is performing in eight parades, including Nyx, Endymion and Orpheus.
Everybody wants to dance, dance, dance
Meanwhile, dance troupes are growing. A lot. Eighteen eye-catching, eclectic groups for adults have formed since 2011, including the Nyxettes, Disco Amigos and the Amelia EarHawts, according to my colleague Doug MacCash's research.
Randolph takes credit for the trend. The Pussyfooters debuted in the first-ever Muses parade. "They were older and they wanted to be majorettes," she said. "You didn't see that before Muses."
It was part of her vision "to create a different vibe, to get everyone involved in Mardi Gras," she said.
The same explosion has happened among dance studios, said Chenell Taylor, director of Girlz-N-Motion. About five years ago, "when we started, it was maybe four groups," she said. "Now it seems like it's maybe 100 groups."
That hasn't increased competition among the dancing troupes, Taylor said, because "the parades add on." Girlz-N-Motion performed at the tail end of Oshun with four other dance studios, one mounted equestrian group and the Arthur Ashe Charter School band.
The kids' studio troupes are especially eager to perform. They contact Muses even though the parade runs late on a school night, Randolph said.
"I get calls constantly," said Scott Tramel with Perseus, the oldest parade krewe in Slidell.
This year, he answered. Float 10 in Perseus was followed by four studio dance groups according to a lineup Tramel shared.
He sees that as a way to include the community in the parade. "I do look at it like a public service in that we allow people to participate," he said, adding, "Some of them are very talented."
Green, purple and gold -- emphasis on the green
Another factor limiting school marching bands in the lineup: they charge.
"The biggest thing for us is we want local bands," preferably from Uptown schools, Krewe of Freret parade coordinator Brendan Ryan said. But "we don't always have the money."
North Shore school bands cost $1,200 to $1,500 each, Tramel said. Jefferson Parish public schools spokeswoman Elizabeth Branley said her schools' bands get somewhere in the $1,800 to $2,500 range. The Brother Martin Crusader Band's fee varies based on the krewe and time commitment, Caronna said: as low as $500 to as high as $4,000.
The Crusader Band performs "for the exposure and to give our students the experience of doing something traditional, unique, historic and down-right fun," Caronna said. But they do need to cover expenses such as "uniform cleaning, snacks, ice chests, coolers, bus rental, compensation for faculty bus drivers, as well as wear and tear on uniforms, equipment."
The costumed adult groups like the 610 Stompers charge as well. Even the brand-new Mande Milkshakers did so "in order to keep the fun affordable for our ladies," spokeswoman Tina Rinehart said.
In Muses, "everyone is paid to participate," Randolph said.
This can all get very expensive. The super-Krewe of Nyx spent almost $55,000 on marching bands in the 2015 season, according to tax records . It wasn't clear whether that included dance groups.
Studio dance troupes, on the other hand, generally shoulder their own costs, Taylor said. "Some parades may give you like $200 or so."
It all adds up to one answer. Are school marching bands becoming outnumbered? "Yeah. They are!" Taylor said.
Has the balance tipped?
With so many elements restricting the use of bands, a scheduling change can destroy a parade coordinator's attempt to balance the lineup.
That's what happened to Perseus this year, Tramel said. Slidell condensed its Carnival schedule, so Perseus followed the Slidellians. Suddenly, the two krewes were competing for the same bands. They decided to share the available schools across both parades, Tramel said.
He also shortened the Perseus parade to avoid exhausting the crowd. "There is a point where you're paraded out," he said. "Only so many beads you can catch."
Fewer floats meant less revenue, which reduced the budget for sub-units to $3,000.
The result: "It was very heavy this year on the dance groups," Tramel said.
He's intrigued by the Mande Milkshakers, who are getting a lot of attention on the North Shore. He figured his budget wouldn't stretch that far.
Carnival history, Carnival change
Some krewes do still hold the line. Orpheus booked just one freestanding dance group: the 610 Stompers, spokeswoman Renee Maxwell said. Endymion only has dance troupes accompanied by live marching bands, Darryl d'Aquin said.
Yet their traditional take was once itself new.
In the earl 20th century, parades didn't even have throws, historian Henri Schindler said. "People went to see the beautiful works of art," the floats, which zipped by like a dream and "left you with fabulous impressions." The riders were ushered along by small brass bands, which were not between every float.
School marching bands joined the lineup somewhere around World War II. The change "wasn't remotely controversial. Because the bands were asked to march in the parades by the krewes," Schindler said.
The only other people on foot were flambeaux carriers. "The dancing groups are utterly new," he said, in the last 20 years.
Schindler doesn't personally care for "the endless parade of marching girls," even as part of a school band. "That's what makes the parades so long," he said. "For me, it's like a marathon." For that matter, he misses the old-time brass bands. They persist in Krewe du Vieux, which he helped found.
But "Carnival has never stayed the same," he said. "There's room for anybody and everything."
Including the Sirens and Southern University's Human Jukebox band leading Nyx for 2017.
Are there too many dance troupes in Carnival parades? Let us know in the comments.