For 43 of the 45 years Festival du Voyageur has been around, the jigging contest has thrilled and amused audiences, and Saturday, Feb. 22 at noon was no exception when 275 people came out to cheer on the jiggers at the Voyageur Trading Post on Provencher Boulevard. The youngest contestant was 5-year-old Kyle Sherk and the two oldest were over 60.
The Metis developed the ‘jig’ in the mid-1800’s to attract traders throughout the Red River Valley, hence the name the ‘Red River Jig‘. The dance is a combination of Plains First Nations, Scottish, Irish and French-Canadian dancing. Aboriginal people were banned from dancing by the government who feared they would be doing ‘war dances’.
“One reason why the head is motionless and the arms are still at the side of the body while the feet move wildly is so that if people were doing the dance in their houses and some government official walked by, it looked like they were just shuffling along the floor in their house,” explained Arnold Asham, whose Asham Stompers and Sagkeeng’s Finest were on hand to provide mid-show and post-show entertainment.
Sagkeeng’s Finest won last year’s America’s Got Talent competition after beating out 11,000 competitors. The prize was $250,000 which included a $100,000 truck which they sold and split the money, bought a house and now all live together. Their popularity has made ‘jigging’ quite popular worldwide.
The first of four categories was for 9 and under. Each 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners won a medallion as well as cash.
Eight-year-old Thalia Ducharme took home $40 for her first place win. Thalia’s twin sister Paryce, earned 2nd place winning $30. Clarissa Spence (5), who has been dancing half of her life, was the 3rd place winner earning her $20. She proclaimed that she bought her lovely brand new dress just for the competition. Fourth place prize of $10 went to 5-year-old Kyle Sherk, whose mother Erika was also in the open competition. Erika learned traditional jigging from her grandmother. They both seem to be following in her footsteps, jigging all the way.
In the 10-13 year-old category, there were only two entrants, sisters Amy and Sarah Lambert. Amy took first place winning $90 and Sarah placed 2nd with a $75 prize.
There were only two entrants in the 60+ category. Giselle Himbeault walked off with $125. Verna Spence (Clarissa Spence’s grandmother) collected $75 dollars for her quick moving steps.
The judging was a little tougher for the many who entered the ‘Open Category’. Ryan Richard who had to take last year off after winning 3 years in a row the previous years (those are the rules), was this year’s champion once again. His first prize was $200. Felicia Morisseau (2nd place) left with $150. Kalem McLennan (3rd) pocketed $100. Jon Maytwayashing (4th) won $70. There was a tie for 5th place between Deena Monkman and Kelsey McLellan. The two came out again for a ‘dance-off’ with Deena coming out the victor, winning $50.
The very talented Michael Audette played fiddle for all of the contestants. He’s been playing fiddle for 17 of his 20 years and has played for Festival du Voyageur for 8 years.
After the winners were announced, all the jiggers got on the dance floor and turned the place into a barn dance. Then MC Marc Remillard told all of the dancers to go into the audience and grab a dance partner. Anyone who refused had to buy Marc a beer. Lots of smiles, lots of happy people.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer.