Ceremonies / Music / Dance
Music and dance are important parts of Métis culture. They were famous for their fiddle music and dancing.
Music played an important role in the lifestyle of the Métis people. They held many community events that involved music and dancing. The fiddle was the most common instrument used by the Métis. Other instruments included the concertina, harmonica, hand drum, mouth harp, and finger instruments (like bones and spoons)Fiddle. It was the French and Scots who first introduced fiddles to the Métis.
The fiddles were handmade from maple and birch wood. Eventually the Métis people learned how to make their own fiddles, because they were so expensive to buy or trade for. The Métis fiddle music had a distinct sound to it. The bottom string of the fiddle was tuned to an A (up a tone from G), and the rhythm of the songs was based on syncopation and extra beats (for dancing).Fiddle music was often played accompanied by someone playing the spoons, drumming on a tin pan, or stomping (to keep the beat).
The fiddle has figured prominently in the lifestyle of the Métis people for hundreds of years. It is the primary instrument for accompanying the Métis jig.
The famous 'Red River Jig' has become the centerpiece of Métis music. Since this European instrument was exceedingly expensive in early Canada, especially for grassroots Métis communities, many craftsmen learned how to make their own.
The fiddle is still in use today and plays a prominent role in celebrations as a symbol of our early beginnings and the joyful spirit in which we lived and grew. Fiddle and jigging contests are always popular events and provide an opportunity to showcase the fiddle as a symbol of Métis nationhood and pride.
The traditional music of the Métis was up-tempo and lively, which made it perfect for dancing. Extra and irregular beats were added to give bounce to the music, making the dance a lot faster. The Métis dances were a blend of European(French, Scottish, Irish) and Native influences.
Red River Jig
The traditional dance of the Métis people was the Red River Jig. The Red River Jig is a unique dance developed by the Métis people, which combines the intricate footwork of Native dancing with the instruments and form of European music.
Often the Métis made their own fiddles out of available materials because they could not afford the European imports.
In a jig, the faster the fiddle music, the faster the dancers’ feet had to move (dancer always followed the fiddle music). The rhythm was kept by toe tapping or playing the spoons. The jig had two parts:
Traditionally, dancing started early in the evening and would last until dawn. Witnesses were often dumbfounded by the energy and vitality evident during celebrations which was matched only by the long, arduous days of labour necessary to keep Métis communities running.
Métis people continue to enjoy jigging, and have local, provincial and national dance teams who attend conferences, exhibitions and powwows.