Interview with Yvonne about the Red River Jig
Yvonne shares her knowledge about the Red River Jig.
1) What is the Red River Jig and how is it different from Irish and other European jigs?
The Red River Jig is a blend of 1st Nations and European dances including French, Scottish, Irish, English, Scandinavian traditions. But what makes the Red River Jig different from other jigs is the steps and the music we dance to.
Métis dance music is often called crooked music because it is not always on a 4/4 beat. Everyone plays it a little differently so you really have to listen carefully for the changes in the music or you’ll be offbeat.
The steps we do in the Red River Jig and other dances are also much closer to the ground and much faster than in European jigs. Many elders say that when done right the fancy steps in the jig sound like the beating of horse’s hooves.
2) The Red River Jig is considered to be one of the most complex Aboriginal dances. How do judges determine the winner of a Red River Jigging contest?
Well, it depends a lot on where you are competing. Judges in different areas look for different things so you have to find out about what they like and what the rules are there then adjust your style to impress the judges. In Manitoba, they like dances that are bouncy and lively and lower to the ground. At John Arcand’s Fiddle Fest in Saskatoon, the most important thing is the number of traditional fancy steps you can do.
During a competition after the winner has been chosen, the second place dancer can challenge the first place winner. This means the second place challenger has an opportunity to win the first place spot.
The leader starts first and the dancer in second place has to do every step the leader does. If the leader runs out of steps and the challenger takes over he or she becomes the new leader and then wins first place.
3) What have you learned from speaking with Elders across Canada about the tradition of the Red River Jig and its importance for the Métis people?
These days very few dancers still do things the traditional way. Speaking with elders taught me a lot about which steps are really traditional and the clothing and jewelry they wore when they danced back then. The stories elders shared with me were very special because they really lived this traditional way of life. There’s an incredible sense of timelessness and joy when they remember those times.
4) What makes you so passionate about preserving, teaching, and performing traditional Métis dances like the Red River Jig?
Jigging brings people together to celebrate life and the friends and family they have around them. When we get together laugh and have a lot of fun. Many of the communities I visited to teach to dance to treated me like royalty. They went all out and shared all their favorite recipes for buffalo meat and everything. Whenever I go somewhere to teach, we always share stories about dancing and Métis tradition. Teaching dance is very important because it passes traditions on. Now things have come full circle because dancers I’ve trained are out there winning competitions and teaching others.
5) Do you have any tips for people who are interested in learning traditional Métis dances?
Get ready to work up a sweat! Traditional dancing is a great form of aerobic exercise and it’s really fun to do together in a group. Learning the steps takes time but it goes by really fast when you are having a good time listening to the music.