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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways

Jigging groupStories from the Métis communities tell of dances that continued all night, with fiddlers spelling each other, and champion dancers boasting of having danced every dance. Not only was the challenge to dance every dance, but it was to make up new steps and to combine steps in new ways. Champion dancers were community idols and the young boys and girls would learn from them. In the hivernant camps, a larger building would be set up as the community gathering place, on par with the community halls in rural farming communities. In similar ways, in the early 20th century, as the farm boys would travel 40 or 50 miles to go to a dance in another community, so the Métis young people would travel for half a day to attend a big dance.

Many of the dance forms were for groups, rather than couples or individuals. Some were similar to square dance figures while others were game dances. One of the first dances the children would learn might be the "Rabbit Dance" in which the men and women dance in lines while the end couple dances up and down the column and ends their turn in a mock chase.

As the 20th century progressed, interest in Métis music and dance seemed to decline. Many Métis parents wished for their children to learn the music and learn the dances of their heritage, but the days of the house parties and community hall parties were over. They tried organize lessons in jigging and encouraged the formation of Métis Youth dance troupes. Community development has led to an increase in these groups, and in regional music competitions. The Festival du Voyageur, a winter festival held in Winnipeg has become increasingly popular for not only the voyageur (Métis) culture, but for the jigging competitions. As the Métis community experiences revitalization, so too does Métis music and dance.

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