Celtic Dance/Métis Square Dance

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Square dance has been a popular social dancing which is loved in different countries. Originated in England and spread throughout Europe and then followed the Europe settlers to North America and strongly developed, it is now asset of different cultural heritages. When it came to North America follow European immigrants, it has become a part of their own unique cultural heritage. And Métis Square dancing is one of them.

Metis People & Culture[edit | edit source]

A Métis family

Métis people is one the three Indigenous group of people in Canada. Metis is the French term for “mixed-blood” or "half-breed" (Wikipedia.org). In the 1700s, when the French and Scottish fur traders came to Canada and part of the United States, they settle and married Indigenous women including the Plain Cree and the Anishinabe (Gaudry et al, 2009).  “Their descendants formed a distinct culture collective consciousness and nationhood in the Northwest region” (Canada.ca). “The Métis National Council (MNC), the political organization that represents the Métis Nation defines the Métis homeland as the three Prairie provinces and parts of Ontario, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the northern United States” (Gaudry et al, 2009). The most commonly known group are the "Red River Métis", centring on southern and central parts of Manitoba along the Red River of the North (Wikipedia.org).

Métis culture is result of the mixture of European and Indigenous traditions and so is “unique and rich”. The Métis is known as a festive and sociable people. “The Métis have been described as having a social life, which mixed the cooperative tribalism of their Aboriginal foremothers and the joie de vivre – joy of life – of their French-Canadian forefathers” (Paquin et al, 2017). Métis people love social gathering such as wedding, house parties where women bring foods, coffee and tea while the men play music. People also gathered for ball games, card games or to have dinner together. “Socialization led to the development of a rich and varied entertainment life among the Métis” (Paquin et al, 2007).

In contemporary time, to promote a sense of community and ensure that Métis culture stays alive, events such as “Back to Batoche Days”, the “Prince Albert Métis Fall Festival” and the “Métis Cultural Reunion at the Forks” are staged. “Back to Batoche Days” are held annually in July and is an extension of the “St. Joseph’s Day” celebrations of the nineteenth century. People come from many regions to take part in the cultural and social events. People set up tables of art and craftwork, historical displays and educational displays. There are jigging and fiddling competitions as well as voyageur games. In these events, individuals compete in trap setting, axe throwing, fire starting, and flour packing (Paquin et al, 2007).

Popular Types of Métis Dance[edit | edit source]

Métis traditional music and dance are strongly influenced by both European and Indigenous backgrounds. There are many fiddle tunes and dances. All Métis dancing initiated from blending First Nations footwork with Scottish, Irish, and French reel, jig, and quadrille steps (Paquin et al, 2007). Although the most popular dance is the Red River Jig, the Métis people also enjoys other jigs such as the “Rabbit Chase Dance”, the “Handkerchief Dance”, the “Sash Dance”, the “Drops of Brandy”, and the “Broom Dance”. In addition, Métis people are known for other dance types such as square and round dancing, schottisches, quadrilles, old time waltzes and polkas. Particularly, square and round dance competitions are always the main highlight of such Métis cultural events as “Back to Batoche Days” or the “Prince Albert Métis Fall Festival” (Paquin et al, 2007).

Today, “the Métis people still perform traditional music and dances at local and national competitions, community gatherings, powwows and conferences”(Gaudry et al, 2009). However, in these occasions, the Métis people performs the dances to showcase their talent or as a social event for both the young and the old more than just socially participating within their own community.

Metis Square Dances[edit | edit source]

In Métis square dance, four couples face each other and form a square shape while dancing. The footwork is said to be highly more complex than jigs because dancers are required collaborate as couples and to follow a dance caller’s instruction. The entire performance includes three distinct ‘changes’, each of which is self-contained (Dueck, 2006). “The first change is danced to a jig-like tune in compound time, and the second and third to reels or polkas. All three changes tend to be danced in the same tempo range – 120 to 136 pulses per minute – with the tempo increasing from the first to the second and (typically) from the second to the third. The practice of dancing three changes may be a holdover from the nineteenth century: early European and eastern Canadian quadrilles typically had five parts in varying 2/4 and 6/8 meters” (Dueck, 2006)

What’s more of the three changes is a number of other typical choreographic features. The most vivid characteristic is the incorporation of elements of step dancing. “In the first change, dancers take on a shuffling, alternating step patterns while during the second and third changes, they apply a much more vigorous and active step” (Dueck, 2006). “The second and third change step is vigorous even in more conservative forms which is shown Métis people’s vicaciousness and energy” (Dueck, 2006).

A video illustrate Métis Square Dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRRwE08rr7E

“Another unique characteristic of indigenous square dancing is that dances frequently coordinate the activity of more than four couples. In other parts of the world, quadrilles are typically danced by eight dancers in four couples. But at the Métis social dances, it could be more than four couples. A larger group takes a longer time to finish any given change” (Dueck, 2006). As in most of the community festivals or gatherings, almost all participate in playing music and dancing. “Métis square dancing has been given the people the opportunity to unite and synchronize an entire gathering and express commutativity” (Dueck, 2006).  

What is easy for audience to recognize Métis square dancing is the dress the dancers wear. “At the dance, both men and women wore brightly adorned beaded or embroidered moccasins. Women wore dresses decorated with silk ribbons while men wore ribbon shirts and sashes, a tradition many Métis dancers still follow” (Paquin et al, 2006).

Still, the Métis square dancing has some similarities with the general square dancing is that it typically involves a thorough and consistent working out of choreographic in each couple. Thanks to the assistance of the dance callers.

Dance Caller[edit | edit source]

In early twentieth century, “there was the appearance of dance callers in rural communities where different callers took turns running dancers through distinctive choreographic patterns with the aim of ensuring proper conduct and the maintenance of tradition” (Dueck, 2006). It is said that no Métis dance complete without a caller. “The dance caller uses panache, creativity, humor and musical knowledge to ensure that people stay in time with the music and enjoy themselves, in addition to a fine sense of rhythm. Good callers can keep a dance going well into the dawn”. (Canadian Geographic, 2018)

In the modern time, dance caller still plays an important role in square dancing. In square dancing generally, not necessarily Métis square dancing, caller seem to be the lead of any square dancing occasion, except in competition performances. Wendy VanderMuellen, a popular square dancer and caller in Ottawa said in an interview. “We basically divide dancing into 2 bits, one where we practice and then a singing call because that’s one thing a lot of people don’t understand about modern square dancing as we sing. So, there are familiar songs out there it can be very modern to traditional style”.

It seems that square dancing is being promote widely to different generations. In LIZA Mccoy and Barbara Schneider article writing about Dressing for the dance: Aesthetics, ageing and gender in modern square dance. McCoy and Schneider mentioned that “callers and club leaders, try to imagine who might be potential recruits, how to attract them and how to retain them” (McCoy and Schneider, 2017).

On Wendy VanderMuellen website, she stated that “A good Caller will make sure the steps run together very smoothly. But nothing is memorized, so dancers don’t know what’s coming up next”. The benefits of square dancing are also being promote. “Not only the body wise but also mentally. Physical and social activities because you have to interact with people.  It gets you out and get you into people. It is good mentally because you have to interpret what the caller tells you to do and you have to do the steps. So, you have to really pay attention you can’t let your mind wander so it good for the brain as well. So, you’ll be knocking into somebody as well, You’re gotta pay attention”

Link to her interview on Youtube.com: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FghujABlTIM

Also, during the interview with Roger TV, when she was asked if she had to learn to be a caller, she said: “Yes, you must practice a lot to be a caller. I personally danced for 18 years before I even decided to take up calling so I was pretty good dancer so I understood a lot of it. We actually have courses for caller, caller school. We practice and they will critique what we do. It is like learning a new language but it’s easy because we do one step at a time like circle left is an official square dance call.

Cultural aspects of the dance[edit | edit source]

The Métis people are known for strong sense of community and the dance helped to tie community together. Dances were a big social event for the entire community and often continue to be so.

Traditionally, square dancing was a kind of social dancing within the Métis communities in occasion such as social gatherings and family’s reunions. Dances were often very spontaneous and were held in homes, schools, or churches where there was enough space for a dance floor, fiddler players and a caller. People would gather in both good and unfavored weather conditions (Paquin, 2007). “Whenever a formal or informal dance was organized, almost everyone attended, danced, celebrated and socialized in one another’s company” (Paquin, 2007).  People would clear out their homes to make space for party dances. “Within the community, there was always somebody who could play a fiddle, guitar, accordion or the spoons. Everybody who was able to took part in the singing, playing, and dancing did so” (Paquin, 2007). “It was to involve interaction between community members who not only knew one another but were closely implicated in each other’s social and economic well-being” (Dueck, 2006). The sense of community emerged from these festivities and sociable through the dance. The choreographic actions obviously connected with emotional experience of collectivity in square dancing. “The tradition of assembling large numbers of participants in a single group makes square dancing very much an experience of collectivity, particularly when the group consists of most of those in a room” (Dueck, 2006). In the conversation of Dueck with his allies, Audrey Guiboche, one of his friends stated that I think it’s the sense of community and the sense of belonging you get, because you are in ... this huge group of square dancers, and you’re one of them. That’s how I feel when I’m in there” (Dueck, 2006).

According to Byron Dueck as well, most participants in traditional square dances were bound by close social relationships while contemporary dances extend an invitation to an unknown public of aboriginal strangers. “At present, much of the square dancing activity is public oriented. Rural and urban square dance troupes take part in local festivals and travel to competitions around the province” (Dueck, 2006). “Contemporary square dances seem to have a different respect from earlier, community based square dances. Because many of those who take part are square dance revivalists, members or past time members of troupes that participate in competitions and perform exhibition dances” (Dueck, 2006). And “contemporary social square dances, are public events, open to all comers” (Dueck, 2006). Therefore, participants may not be familiar with Métis square dance and they are welcomed to join and will be enjoying with the caller’s assistance.

Compare with a dance type from the same root[edit | edit source]

As mentioned, Métis square dance is one of the Métis heritage which was emerged from blending the French and Scottish and Indigenous backgrounds. The square dance from France and Scotland has the same root which is the quadrilles. Another dance type which is also originated from the quadrilles is the Irish set dance. Irish set dance is also a social group dance form. Like Métis square dancing, Irish set dance was traditionally very popular in rural areas (O’Connor, 1997). Its origin was also from foreign like the Métis square dancing which is from Cotillon and Quadrilles and was introduced to Ireland in the eighteen century and became viral and localized quickly right after is appearance (O’Connor, 1997). Irish set dance also consists four couples in a square formation. The four couples also dance basic steps using jig and reel, however it also has the hornpipes while Métis square dance use the polka together with the jig and reel (O’Connor, 1997).

While the both dance types have the main similarity is the social aspect of the dance originally, the dances have each own unique points of cultural aspect in the contemporary time. The modern Métis square dance is often found in competitions or in exhibitions such as “Back to Batoche Days” or the Powwow where it still mainly organized with the purpose of cultural communalize and to promote Métis cultural heritages to the world. Whereas the Iris set dance has a success in internally cultural sustain. It is where the dance transferred from rural areas of Ireland to the cities and practiced as a leisure form of activity for women majorly and young couples (O’Connor, 1997).

A video example of Irish set dancing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kn94A4otfAs

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

As a type of Celtic dance, the Métis square dance has its own unique cultural characteristic that is obviously distinctive from other Celtic dance forms. Although some dances may share the same roots, the Métis Square dance is special because it is a result from mixing the European and Indigenous cultures. Métis square dance is probably an accent that the Métis people is trying to speak up. Perhaps the Métis people is trying to promote the Métis square dance in particular and Métis cultural heritage in general. And perhaps it will be a way to sustain a dance as well as set of a cultural heritage.

References[edit | edit source]

Dueck, Byron. 2006. "Suddenly a Sense of Being a Community”: Aboriginal Square Dancing and the Experience of Collectivity. Musiké 1:41-58.

Paquin, Todd; Préfontaine, Darren R. and Young, Patrick (2007). Traditional Métis Socialization and Entertainment. Metismuseum.ca

Gaudry, Adam and Leroux, Darryl (2009. White Settler Revisionism and Making Métis Everywhere. The Evocation of Métissage in Quebec and Nova Scotia.

Métis. indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca https://indigenouspeoplesatlasofcanada.ca/article/music-and-dance/

Métis. Thecanadianencyclopedia.ca https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/metis

Métis. wikipedia.org https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metis

Métis Nation. Canada.cahttps://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/aboriginal-heritage/metis/Pages/introduction.aspx

O'Connor, Barbara. 1997. "Safe Sets: Women, Dance and “Communitas”". In Dance in the City, edited by H. Thomas, 149-172. Palgrave MacMillan.

McCoy, Liza and Schneider, Barbara (2017). Dressing for the dance: Aesthetics, ageing and gender in modern square dance. University of Calgary

Roger TV. (2018). Intro to modern dancing. Youtube.com https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FghujABlTIM

Modern Square Dancing: NOT your same old song-and-dance routine!. wendyandjohn.ca. https://www.wendyandjohn.ca