Metis Jigging

For someone who personally does not really love to dance (I think I can count the number of times I’ve willingly danced on one hand), I really do love organizing dance programs at the museum. Even if I mostly participate as the cheering section (always an important part of a program, I think) I really love learning about the dances, and watching the audience dance, and listening to the music. I think it’s actually equally as fun for the audience sitting and watching the dancing as for the brave audience members who get up to try the new steps. Back in the spring we did line dancing at my Wednesday adult program, and recently we learned Métis Jigging as the third and final family program for the summer. I think that these programs are a great way to experience culture and celebrate heritage. In fact, I have so much fun at these programs that I’ve already booked a family barn dance program for the May long weekend in 2011, and plan to ask the line dance and Métis Jigging instructors to return in the new year as well.

The line dancing program in the spring was presented by YuTuKanDanz, a local dance troupe. They did several fun demos and then invited the audience up to learn to dance. There was even a special dance that was mostly hand/arm movements so that people who were confined to their chairs could participate. Here is a sample of one of their dances:

The more recent Métis Jigging program was the third program in a series of family programs linked to our Blackfoot shirts exhibit. The first two programs were the Napi Plays and Napi Puppet stories that I blogged about last week . The Métis Jigging program was also brought to us by volunteers from Aboriginal Council of Lethbridge(ACL). Métis Elder Rod MacLeod (left in photo) is a board member for ACL and works as an Elder at Lethbridge College helping Métis and Aboriginal students. Roy Pogorzelski (right in photo), Aboriginal Diversity Support Coordinator for ACL, has been dancing for seven years and is a Métis Citizen of Saskatchewan.

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The program started with an interesting (and fun!) presentation on Métis history and culture from Rod who also brought a very cool hands-on display.

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I learned that the distinctive noise made by the Red River Cart is because they couldn’t use grease on the wheels since it attracted dirt which caused a sandpaper-type reaction which destroyed the wheels. The audience had a great time talking to him – laughing and asking questions. We could have actually kept talking for hours but we had to make time for the dancing.

The dance portion of the program was led by Roy who taught the group several dances including the Red River Jig. In his article in the Lethbridge Journal Roy describes the dance as: “a traditional dance of the Métis people that was created in the Red River homeland of the Métis, which is now present day Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Red River Jig is danced at parties and community gatherings and has become a strong symbol of Métis identity. The dance is a combination of Scottish/Celtic reel dancing, French jigging and First Nations dancing, which makes it quite unique to Métis culture/identity.” The Red River Jig is danced to a fiddle song with the same name.

During the Red River Jig dancers start with a basic step that everyone does. Dancers can dance in a circle and then when the fiddle music changes it signals the start of a fancy step. There are a number of fancy steps, but once a dancer runs out of steps they usually sit down and another dancer joins the group. The volunteer dancers also learned the “Rabbit Dance” which is a group dance.

Roy started with a demo, followed by a lesson:

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And then they danced.