Watch: Métis dancers keep tradition alive in Red Deer

Dancing the Red River Jig, Sash Dance, and others

For the Allard family of Red Deer, jigging is in their blood.

As youngsters Métis siblings Laura, Daniel and Chaundra Allard first stepped on stage at Canada Day celebrations at Bower Pond in 1992 with the Red Deer Métis Youth Cultural Dancers, a group their father Gilles Allard helped organize.

They went on to dance at over 100 festivals and events. Eventually dancing took some of them across Canada and beyond.

Today Laura, of Red Deer, and Daniel, of Calgary, still perform the traditional Red River Jig, Broom Dance, Rabbit Dance, and the more modern Orange Blossom Special as a duo with a focus on spreading the Métis culture to children through dance.

“The Red River Jig is always special to us because it’s the traditional Métis jig. What’s nice is there’s a part where you switch from regular jigging to fancy step when music changes,” said Laura Gilles, 34.

“Over the years we’ve kind of invented our own little spin on what we do for those fancy steps. Although it’s traditional we’ve also made it our own when it comes to the fancy step.”

She said the clothes are kept simple — white shirt, black skirt and pants — except for the colourful Métis sash.

“With Métis jigging it’s all about the footwork that’s why we only showcase the sash. Because the rest of your body stays straight, your arms are down, and you’re just basically working your feet, we try to keep the focus there.”

On Feb. 8 the gymnasium at Central Middle School will echo with fiddle music and the rhythmic beat from the duo’s tapping feet, along with students and teachers who will join in.

“Kids absolutely love it. You barely have to ask them to come up on stage. Seeing their excitement and being part of a community, that continues to provide us with opportunity to be able to share it and teach and pass it on and it is what keeps driving me to do it,” Laura said.

Her father Gilles Allard said Métis dancing is uniquely Canadian, a combination of Indigenous dance, coupled with French and Gaelic step dancing.

“We’ve come to be a people only because of the fur trade and isolation, with our own language and dance styles made up of that era,” Gilles said.

He said Métis fancy steps allow dancers freedom to express themselves which sets Métis dance apart from other step dancing.

“Any kid can get on the dance floor and give their best.”

Gilles, who joked it’s the equivilant of “Métis aerobics” said he doesn’t dance anymore and prefers to leave it to his children and grandchildren.

“I’m a grandpa now and I try and hold on to my rights to sit back.”

Laura disagreed.

“When my brother and I dance you can see him off on the side dancing away,” Laura said with a laugh.

His two granddaughters Norah, 6, and Presley, 4, who live with his daughter Chaundra and her husband Chris Yarborough in Atlanta, Ga., have already shared some Métis steps at their playschool.

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