Parade stomping gives Dean Maass appeal

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Photo courtesy of 610 Stompers.

Kern Maass, dean of the College of Music and Media, performs with the 610 Stompers during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Maass is a member of the Year 11 rookie class of the Krewe.

Emma Ruby

For two weekends during August last summer, Harrah’s Casino drew a long, winding line of men out its front door. These men were not looking to gamble, however. They were vying for a chance on stage to audition to be a 610 Stomper.

Only the first 50 men are allowed into the exclusive audition each summer, and fewer yet make the krewe each year. The 610 Stompers, a dance krewe made up of around 100 “ordinary men,” has often been a crowd favorite during Mardi Gras parades.

In 2019, Kern Maass, dean of the College of Music and Media, was fifteenth in line to audition for the troupe. Maass said he started considering auditioning after his kids saw the krewe and encouraged him to join.

“My kids looked at me and said ‘Dad, that is so you,’” Maass said.

So Maass decided to “take the plunge” and audition. During the first weekend of auditions, he said he had moments where he asked himself what was he doing there, intimidated by fellow auditioners who had repeatedly tried to join the Krewe multiple times before.

The 610 Stompers’ uniforms have been unmistakable. During performances, each man has worn a headband, blue gym shorts, tall socks and a custom red jacket. Weekend one standouts during auditions are given a golden headband, which Maass received, he said.

“The golden headband is kind of like the golden buzzer on America’s Got Talent,” Maass said. “Maybe, they save that for the guys who don’t get in because of their moves.”

He said the energy and success of the first weekend made the second far less intimidating, and when he was on stage he felt empowered.

“It was a moment of letting go and not taking yourself too seriously,” Maass said.

And not taking yourself too seriously was a requirement for anyone who hopes to join the groupm, according to Maass. The dancers have been known for goofy dances and crowd interactions during parades, Maass said. Being a member means understanding the importance of “spreading smiles.”

“It is certainly a fun release,” Maass said. “I take my work very seriously, but I have never taken myself very seriously. If you’ve ever been in the dean’s office, you’ll see we always have fun.”

Performing as a 610 Stomper allows Maass to be an example for the students he oversees, he said. Maass said most students in the music and media department will be on stage or in a performance of some sort at some point in their college career, so his joining the Krewe was just an example of that. The 610 Stompers, he said, have been an opportunity for him to be authentic and real in his performance.

“I want to show students to not always let your nerves get to you,” Maass said.

Maass had a small taste of conquering those nerves in November, when the Stompers performed in the national Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Maass said it was the first time rookies had been allowed to walk the route with the crowd, and following the performance, the Stomper’s website crashed three times due to heavy traffic.

“We got to show what it feels like to live in New Orleans,” Maass said. “Put us on the map.”

The 610 Stompers don’t only march in parades, however. The group has raised half a million dollars for charity since it was formed in 2009. The Krewe’s website said raising money for charity is part of “using (their) powers for good.”

With Mardi Gras quickly approaching, Maass said the Stompers are ramping up for a busy season. Each of their dances for the 2020 season will be unveiled at a “Debutante ball” in January. Although the numbers will be kept a secret until then, Maass said anyone who attended auditions may have caught a glimpse at what is to come.

“There is a lot of anticipation to be in my first Mardi Gras parade,” Maass said. “I’ll definitely be on the lookout for students when I’m on the parade route.”

And as for his kids who encouraged him to audition, Maass said they love watching him perform as long as it is at an official 610 Stomper event.

“We’ll be in a restaurant and a song comes on that we have a dance to, and they’re embarrassed,” Maass said. “If I’m in uniform they’re proud, but if not, they’re like ‘Dad, cut it out.’”