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Junior jiggers to debut at St. Albert Métis Spring Festival

Hundreds gather for celebration of Métis culture
Members of the D-Town Steppers from Dauphin, Man., dance for judges onstage during the annual Métis Spring Festival at Servus Place in St. Albert May 19, 2018. The 2024 Métis Spring Festival runs from May 17-19. DAN RIEDLHUBER/St. Albert Gazette

There will be dancing and fiddling aplenty at Servus Place this weekend as thousands gather for a free Métis festival — including an all-new junior dance troupe from St. Albert.

Roughly 400 people a day will be at Servus Credit Union Place this May 17 to 19 for the 14th annual Métis Spring Festival. Organized by the Métis Child and Family Services Society, this event sees close to a hundred Métis singers, jiggers, and fiddlers compete for some $11,600 in prizes before a live audience.

The Métis Spring Festival is a chance for Alberta’s Métis to share their culture and history with others, said organizer Florence Gaucher. Guests can hear talented local singers performing on Friday, with jiggers and fiddlers competing on the weekend.

Gaucher said this year’s festival will feature the public debut of the Red Willow Métis Dancers — a hot new dance group composed of St. Albert youths aged four to 11.

“It’s going to be cute!” she said.

Time to dance

Hosting and performing at the event is St. Albert Métis jigger Luc Gauthier, who recently taught Métis jigging lessons at the St. Albert Public Library.

Métis jigging is almost as old as the Métis themselves, and emerged when First Nations and European cultures met through the fur trade, Gauthier said. Study its movements, and you can find traces of the steps of First Nations powwows, the shuffling of French jigs, and the hops and jumps of Scottish highland dances. Some dances are directly inspired by European ones, such as the sash dance (which has its roots in the Scottish sword dance).

Closely tied with jigging is fiddle music, which caught on among the Métis as an alternative to the drums used by First Nations dancers, Gauthier said.

“Everyone could get up and dance if you had a fiddle,” he said, and many Métis families would turn their kitchens into dance halls by shoving aside the tables and chairs and striking up a tune.

Gauthier said the Red Willow Métis Dancers (which he coaches) will be the opening acts at the festival on Saturday and Sunday. They will perform two traditional Métis dances, specifically the duck dance (where dancers follow a leader like ducklings following a duck, and also “duck” under each other’s arms) and the Reel of Four (where two couples switch partners during a square dance). Also performing will be the Métis Child and Family Jiggers and the Kikino Northern Lights square dance group.

Doors open at the festival at 6:30 p.m. Friday and at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Call Gaucher at 780-222-4138 for details.

Kevin Ma

About the Author: Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.
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