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A Mummer's Diary: Getting in step

This week, Pete Ciarrocchi and his fellow dancers face the challenge of relearning new steps as choreography changes.

 EDITOR'S NOTE: Most Philadelphians know Pete Ciarrocchi as the guy who gave the world Crab Fries via his Chickie's & Pete's sports-bar chain. But for more than 40 years, he has also been a dedicated Mummer, spending the last 18 New Year's Days dancing with the Polish-American String Band. To help get you ready for the strut up Broad Street, we've asked Pete to keep a weekly diary as he and the band prep for this year's extravaganza.

It was a critical week at practice, and the practices are getting a lot more intense. On Sunday, we went to our warehouse in Wissinoming. It's very old and probably hasn't been used for what it was designed for in 40 years.

When you open the doors, all the band props are inside. They're glittery and shiny and bright in this dingy, dark warehouse. It's amazing how bright they look.

We paid a guy 20 bucks to plow a lot across the street that was surrounded by a trucking company's trailers, so you really couldn't see what we were doing from outside the lot.

We practiced for hours on the wet ground. Although it was sunny, the weather was still cold and windy and wet. Not a very comfortable day to practice.

We did something unique for us. We practiced with the instruments for a while, then put the instruments down.

One of the members is a DJ and he had brought his equipment. They recorded the music, then played it back through the speakers. This way we could do our routine, and the musicians could dance to their spots without worrying about playing an instrument, so they could get everything nailed down.

They looked great.

As far as us dancers go, though, this is the time when things start to happen. We're going to change some dance steps because they don't fit properly, or we have a 16-count and we only need a 12-count. So things start to change. That's why it's so important to be at practice right now.

On Tuesday night, we were indoors at St. Adalbert (on East Allegheny Avenue). The dancers practiced separately from the band to learn the new steps. Drill director Marc Seibert was not very happy with how we matched the band's steps - "I want it to look like this, and I want it to look like that. The lines aren't straight enough for me."

Our dance had to be cut down and redone.

I'm not a pro dancer. When you've been practicing something for months, and now it's going to change, it's tough. But that's what the choreographer said to do. So let's change it.

Being an "old dog, new tricks" guy, it's a little harder for someone like me than for some of the younger guys, who can learn anything because they're kids.

I hope I don't get caught up New Year's Day in front of the judges.

The highlight of the week was that I got to take my suit home, and it fit. I only have to work on the hat now. Dress rehearsal is Sunday, and you have to make sure the hat, even though it's your size, doesn't slip. You have to stuff it with foam insulation to keep it from falling over your eyes.

Wednesday night was a makeup class for the people who are doing our makeup. They sent me a picture Thursday morning of how I'll look. It's a very interesting face.

You will not be able to recognize me, which is great if I mess up.

- As told to Chuck Darrow