Costume Courses

Halloween is for kids unless adults prohibit their joining in on the fall ritual for religious or nutritional purposes. It’s not just the candy, even though that is a great treat for those who participate. It’s the fun of dressing up in costumes and running around with friends. Adults too like costumes and Halloween revelry, especially when alcohol is involved.

As a youngster, Ansel Head was no different. Every year he dressed and mined for sweets. His grandparent’s house, which was just up the street, was always home to the mother load. His grandfather owned grocery stores where vast treasures were stored in unlimited abundance; and his grandmother, who was not one of those hung up on the dietary dangers of Halloween candy, held the keys. No apples, oranges, or raisons were taking up room in her treat bags; she instinctively knew young ghouls and goblins would thrive best on chocolate and hard candy.

Head thought that this Halloween game was all there was to his costume curriculum; but then he saw his first parade at McCallie. There they were, not much older than he, all decked out in blue blouses with shiny brass, white pants, and polished shoes. They were carrying real rifles and swords. Flags were flying; the band was playing stirring music; they were marching about in step. Up until then, Head’s costume education had obviously neglected the music, culture, and camaraderie of all those boys dressed in the same outfits and acting together in unison.

Passing in Review

Head was hooked. Here were courses he wanted to pursue. In this classroom, he saw real opportunities for expanding his knowledge.

And so he joined up, first at McCallie and then again at the Navy’s Officer Candidate School in Pensacola. He felt proud in his blue uniforms. He loved the orderly structure of passing in review behind the American flag with likeminded peers. He welled up when the band played songs that had kept his ancestors in step. He found freedom in the stoic, inhibited structure of the ranks. He made friends for life. And again, he thought he had mastered all there was to this costume game.

That smugness was reinforced when he watched the Italian concepts on the subject in one of the Godfather movies. Drab costumes, depressing music, slow motion marching, dourfaces on both the participants and the viewers, that was his take on the movies rendition of the Celebration of the Virgin at the turn of the 20th century in Little Italy. Of course, it was probably what the director wanted to portray since the up and coming godfather had just wacked the guy in the white suit. In any case, Head felt no need to pursue the costume subject further.


Later in life, Giovanna and Maria, who work with Head at his restaurant, introduced him to their country’s approach to the costume game. Here was something new and exciting. Head had experienced the joy of donning wild costumes as a boy and acting like a boy, and then he had dressed conservatively like a soldier and marched in cadence with his peers. But these folks from the Andes cultures joined everything together – the kids, the adults (without liquor), colorful and traditional costumes, flags, music, marching or more specifically dancing,  and passing in review.

Jhoselin, Joaquin, & Maria

At both La Danza de las Pastoras and Festival Boliviano, groups came from all over the east coast for the annual get togethers. Years of work had gone into their hand made costumes, many of which had been sewn, embroidered, and worn by grandparents and passed down. Hours of practice had made their carefully choreographed marching dances the same as those performed by their ancestors. One group would perform, while the others watched. Then another group would perform, and another, and another all through the day and night.

In Head’s world, these sorts of things were conservative and orderly; but in the Inca and Hispanic world, they were open, laughing, and seemingly chaotic. Yet in both cases, the outcome was the same. Lasting friendships were formed, traditions were extolled, healthy values displayed, and life celebrated.

Here was a whole new branch of costume courses for Head and his Nikon to pursue.

(There are more pictures from Festival Boliviano accompanied by some traditional music here in Head’s Photo Gallery)

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