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Sailing along for the sheer fun of it

by Caspar Itz in Events & Agenda , 01 januari 1970

What one remembers most of the Amsterdam Canal Parade are the large colourful floats with hordes of cute boys and girls dancing, whistling, waving and singing. And lots of loud music booming out, to stimulate the dancers and draw the attention of the many onlookers. Between all these big, noisy crowd pleasers are many small, sometimes tiny boats sailing the Prinsengracht, without which this unique Gay Pride parade wouldn`t be complete.

Who can lay his hands on whatever stays afloat for more than three hours can join the parade. Together the big, often impressive commercial entries and the many private participants, not connected to any organisation, bar or disco, create a colourful spectacle. And these private entries, sailing along just for the sheer fun of it all, are equally important in sharing with the huge audience on the quay the big smiles of their gay pride.
What`s it like, to navigate carefully through a canal in the midst of all those giants, I asked Marcel (31) who, together with seven friends, participated in last year`s parade. "Someone asked me to join them on their tiny little boat and all I could say was `Sure, I`ll be there`. I figured it would be fun, but couldn`t foresee it would be much more than that. It was great!"
Much has to be prepared of course long before the actual parade takes place. Participants have to fill out an application form, which has to be sent in in time, so the organisation (Gay Business Amsterdam) can figure out the best order for all the floats to navigate through the canals. It is GAB`s task to divide the floats with loud music evenly over the whole parade and to prevent clusters of the large boats, so there`ll also be room enough for the little ones. This means every participant should know in advance exactly how he will enter the parade. And after that there`s a lot of planning, choosing decorating, costuming left to do. "Though it sounds like a lot of work, all together it`s not that demanding. We were eight pairs of hands, so that made the work a lot easier."


"Having decorations and clothes ready, the actual decking-out took less time than we expected. We started on the morning of the parade itself, hung over I must admit, but nonetheless finished in time." Marcel was a crew member of "Banaanus", a boat sporting two bananas as figure heads. Yellow balloons and yellow outfits completed the picture. Tiny, yet standing out, they were all set to face the huge crowds lining the canals. "When we arrived at the meeting point for the participants, we felt a bit awkward being so minuscule among the rest. But as soon as you come out from under the first bridge in the Prinsengracht, you see the crowd, thousands of people, also waiting for you. All you have to do and can do at that moment is to have fun. Smile, dance. And sporting the yellow we did, it wasn`t hard to draw attention. Making contact with the crowd is so much fun and we came prepared: we had banana sweets to throw to the people, preferably to handsome guys of course."
Seeing and being seen, that`s the best part of Canal Pride. Being noticed for simply participating and for the small performances you`re expected to give once you`re on your way. "All along the canal, and it`s a very long one, everywhere there`s a big crowd. That`s great, but also causes certain problems. We were drinking beer and after a while had to really relieve ourselves, like many others. We got desperate, but didn`t want to turn this into a performance for the thousands of onlookers. Luckily we found a solution: under a bridge we slowed down a bit and took advantage of the extra time to relieve ourselves."


The gigantic sound systems some floats take along will always turn Canal Pride into an instant party (though some residents are less amused). Watching and hearing those floats pass by from the quay draws you into one musical atmosphere after another. But when you`re parading and don`t have your own sound system, you have a choice. "We always tried to stay close to a boat blasting its music into the crowd. We were lucky enough to follow some music we liked, getting us into the mood to dance, to move. We didn`t think of the effect it would have on our tiny vessel and quickly learned we`d better pay attention to moving in sync or else we`d end up in the water. That didn`t happen though and we managed to keep things dry."
Though you`d better stay away from disco or go-go dancing on your little float, you will have as much fun as the people on the big ones. Having a drink, something to smoke, being with friends, hearing a crowd cheer, also for you.... what more do you need once a year? "It really doesn`t matter how you particpate. Even if you join the parade in a washtub, you sure will have a grand time."



In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

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