Indigenous

By blending jigging and hip-hop, dancer hopes to bring new audiences to Métis dance

Mikey Harris has spent most of his life dancing with his family, but these days he is venturing out on his own, mixing hip-hop dance with old school Métis jigging.

Slowdown in dancing gigs due to pandemic got Mikey Harris working on a new dance style

Mikey Harris has lost some dancing opportunities to the pandemic from not being able to travel. He hopes to continue his career when COVID-19 restrictions ease. (Rachelle Hamm)

Mikey Harris has spent most of his life dancing with his family, but these days he is mixing hip-hop dance with old school Métis jigging and is hoping young people will follow his steps.

"I like to do hip-hop music with jigging because, you know, we want to keep the dance alive," said Harris, who is from Sagkeeng First Nation in Manitoba.

Harris, 20, learned how to jig from his grandma when he was four years old. 

He has been dancing ever since and is a part of a family dance group named after his late grandfather, the Ivan Flett Memorial Dancers. Together with his younger siblings, they have travelled across North America to perform.

Harris is determined to turn his lifelong passion into a professional dance career.

"I want to be able to 100 per cent fully support myself through dance. I'm really passionate about it. There's really nothing else in this world that I want to do," said Harris.

Harris has only been dancing hip-hop since he was 16 but has already grown a community of followers on social apps like Instagram and TikTok through videos of himself dancing to contemporary beats. 

By blending the two different dance styles together, Harris said he hopes to attract a younger audience.

"I think the youth, when they see stuff like that, they'll be like, 'Oh, this is cool. I like. What is that?'" said Harris. 

"And then I can explain to them, 'OK, this is jigging. This is where it came from' and give them the traditional aspect of it and all that stuff just to keep it alive. And then they want to learn how to do it right. So that's the main reason why I make all these hip-hop videos." 

Dancer blends hip-hop with Métis jigging

Indigenous

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A slowdown in jigging gigs due to pandemic got Michael Harris working on a new dance style. 1:23

Harris said Métis jigging is still relatively unknown and he is hoping to turn it into a dance category that is recognized.

"There's different styles of tap, there's Chicago footwork... And I want to make jigging something that people want to learn," said Harris.

His aunt Ashley Campbell started dancing with Ivan Flett Memorial Dancers in 2002 and still performs regularly with the group. 

Over the years, she said she has watched Harris blossom into the entertainer he is today.

"You knew early on, like OK, he's got something. And as he got older, his skills just kept developing and he just got more creative with himself," said Campbell.

She said Harris and his younger siblings Jacob and Cienna are role models in the dance community and they are inspiring others to go out and create their own styles.

"I'm just so incredibly proud of him," said Campbell. 

"He's got such a huge heart. He's always thinking of other people, whether it's just a hug or 'I'm going to teach you a dance step,' he always makes time."

Bridging communities

Harris has lost opportunities to perform this year because of travel restrictions but he is trying to remain positive and has transitioned some of those gigs online.

"Before the pandemic happened, I was going to be teaching in a bunch of different cities and I was really excited about it," said Harris. 

He is teaching a weekly class at a studio in Winnipeg and also teaches a couple of groups remotely. Harris has also partnered with Shaqueel Lawrence to create Ikigai Collective, a group of dancers and trainers that aim to develop dancers.

Shaqueel Lawrence has partnered with Harris to form the Ikigai Collective. The group plans on developing other dancers and hope to build bridges between dance communities. (Rachelle Hamm)

"We want to bridge the gap between the different dance groups within the community," said Lawrence.

Lawrence, who teaches hip hop at a couple of Winnipeg dance studios, has known Harris for three years. He said he has had the opportunity to learn more about Indigenous culture since the two have met and has even given jigging a shot.

"He's been able to give me a lot of insight on where things come from and why people do certain things and even a little bit of the language," said Lawrence.

As for blending the styles of hip hop and jigging, Lawrence said, "it's genius."

"You really don't see anybody else doing anything like that. I think him taking this incredible gift, this craft that he's been working on for essentially his whole life and then blending it with hip hop, it helps him branch out to a wider audience."

Harris said he and his siblings are all getting older and will eventually have to go on their own paths, but he hopes to continue teaching and go as far as he can with the Ivan Flett Memorial Dancers. 

"It's definitely lonely," said Harris on dancing without his siblings.

"When I dance with Jacob and Cienna, we just have this bond. We can look at each other ... on stage and we can literally change the whole routine while we're dancing on stage, because that's just kind of the connection we have. Dancing without them, it's something [that] sometimes I've got to do, but I would prefer to be dancing with them all the time."

About the Author

Lenard Monkman is Anishinaabe from Lake Manitoba First Nation, Treaty 2 territory. He is the co-founder of Red Rising Magazine and has been an associate producer with the CBC's Indigenous unit since 2016. Follow him on Twitter: @Lenardmonkman1

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