An online jigging contest brightened lives in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., this holiday season.
“It’s heartwarming,” said Tianna Gordon-Ruben, who submitted a 12-second video of her two-year-old son, Elias, dancing to the Red River jig with a green balloon in his hand.
“When he hears the fiddle music, he automatically knows it’s going to be fun, it’s time to dance.”
Jigging competitions are a common component of festive community gatherings around Christmas, as are drum dances and square dances. For the second year in a row, the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk organized online versions of some of those traditions because of the pandemic.
“I would say it’s not the same as being in the community hall and hearing live music,” said Gordon-Ruben. “But this [is] better than not having any events happening.”
Roy Cockney, an elder in the hamlet of roughly 1,000 people, agrees.
“It’s always most enjoyable to watch people’s jigging and the enjoyment of getting that music because everybody lightens up when that music goes on, the Red River jig.”
The Red River jig is a fiddle tune and dance form that has particular resonance for First Nations and Métis peoples in Northern and Western Canada. Cockney said he remembers it as far back as the early 1950s in Tuktoyaktuk.
“We had fiddlers that were located in Tuk. There were a lot of dances going at that time,” he said. “Every time there was a jig going on, there was always a big crowd.”
Gordon-Ruben said the dark time around Christmas, in Inuvialuit culture, was historically marked by big community gatherings where people would share food and stories, play games and dance.
“Once the Europeans began interacting with the people in the North, they introduced fiddle music, and it just became sort of part of our culture to do it as well,” she said of jigging. “It was a great time to gather and enjoy each other’s company and stay active while doing it.”
The hamlet’s contest called for entries in five age categories. Dozens of video submissions were made by residents.
Caroline Loreen’s one-year-old daughter, Giselle, took first place in the category for those under the age of five.
The youngster learned from her old sister and is a “fast learner,” said Loreen, adding that she checked Facebook for new contest submissions every day.
Tina Kikoak said she was impressed that her 83-year-old mother-in-law, Elizabeth Kimiksana, agreed to participate, too.
“I was happy about it because that’s our culture,” she said. “I’m really proud of her, I’m proud of the whole community.”
Erwin Elias, the hamlet’s mayor, said the contests give people something to do at home.
“It’s been a big hit,” he said. “Not only for the community, but I mean all over the world, you see people doing virtual stuff now … [it’s] good for the people that are just staying at home and watching these events live on social media.”
Gordon-Ruben said she was “lucky” to get a brief shot of her son jigging, and that she wanted to share it with her community to spread the holiday spirit.
“He loves to dance, and he loves to just be his little self,” she said.
“When I’m trying to explain [jigging] to somebody who hasn’t done it before, I would just tell them there’s no right or wrong way to do it. You do it out of the goodness of your heart and express how this music makes you feel.”