Manitoba

Get your Red River jig on: Métis pavilion brings traditional dance back to Folklorama

The flashy Western-inspired outfits can be spotted from a mile away, but what really reels you in is the thunderous — and synchronized — clacking coming from the fancy footwork of the Asham Stompers.

Métis pavilion returns to Winnipeg cultural celebration after 8-year absence; programming runs Aug. 5-11

Arnold Asham dances up a storm with the Asham Stompers at a Folklorama kick-off event Tuesday. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The flashy Western-inspired outfits can be spotted from a mile away, but what really reels you in is the thunderous — and synchronized — clacking coming from the fancy footwork of the Asham Stompers.

The Winnipeg group will be showcasing its take on the fast-moving Red River jig, a traditional Métis dance, at the 49th annual Folklorama. 

The Stompers took on pavilion hosting duties this year — the first time in eight years the celebration of culture and diversity will have a Métis pavilion. The previous Métis​ pavilion was operated by the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre of Winnipeg.

Though he and his crew are light-footed on the dance floor, Stompers president Arnold Asham doesn't take the Folklorama opportunity lightly.

"Our mission is to help recapture and preserve the history of the Mé​tis people through the dancing of the Red River jig," Asham said Tuesday after capturing his breath following the group's high-energy dance at a Folklorama kick-off event.

Watch Asham explain why it's important to teach younger generations how to jig:

Arnold Asham, president of the Asham Stompers, didn't really learn the Red River Jig until he was 50. Now 68, he says the joy of the dance, paired with an urge to pass down the Métis tradition, will keep him stomping for years to come. 0:39

Inspired by powwow and square dancing styles, the jig originated near the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers in the 1800s, before Manitoba was officially a province. One purpose of the fiddle-driven dance back then, Asham says, was to attract fur traders to the first local Mé​​tis colony.

Nowadays, the Asham Stompers are backed by a full band. The group is made of people of all ages and performs about 100 shows a year. Asham said that level of experience comes through when the dancers start kicking in unison.

"We are very, very professional, and they're going to see a great show like [something you'd see in] Vegas," he said.

As dizzying and impressive as the dance is, there isn't a whole lot going on above the waist.

Asham shared this story he says helps explain the stiff upper body:

Arnold Asham shares his understanding of how the distinctive and dizzying Red River Jig came to be. 1:00

And what else can Folklorama patrons expect to see (and eat) at the Métis pavilion?

"Bannock, of course," said Asham, adding bison stew and fry bread will also be served up, and a variety of other cultural displays will be on hand at the Heather Curling Club at 120 Youville St.

"Hope to see you all there," he said.

'The world needs more Folklorama'

Mayor Brian Bowman has already accepted the invitation.

"I cannot wait," he said. "As a very proud Mé​tis-Canadian I am thrilled."

Bowman says he plans to attend all of the 44 Folklorama pavilions between Aug. 5-18.

"It's one beautiful part of our community and right now the world needs more Folklorama," he said.

"There is so much negative toxicity in the world right now and Winnipeg is one of those communities that celebrates diversity."

He is looking forward to taking in the Stompers' performance, although he says it's unlikely anyone in the house during his visit will see him jig.

Watch Bowman waffle on whether he'll show his moves at the pavilion: 

Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman say he is a proud member of the Métis nation, but he doesn't think his Red River Jig skills are honed enough to display this year at Folklorama's Métis pavilion. 0:35

Asham didn't start jigging until he was 50. Now 68, he doesn't plan on stopping the stomping any time soon.

"There's a reason I keep doing it — it's because it's the joy we give people when we share it," he said.

"I also like to bring hope to the people who are my age or older to find something they're passionate about, because it just brings so much satisfaction your life."

The Métis pavilion runs from Aug. 5-11. The venue is open from 6-11 p.m. and performances take place at 6:45 p.m., 8:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. every night.

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.