Aboriginal dance at all their seams

Les danses autochtones sous toutes leurs coutures

Photo: Valérian Mazataud The Duty
Catherine Joncas, executive director of the company Ondinnok, and the dancer of hula hoops and choreographer mohawk Barbara Diabo

Among the indigenous peoples of America and elsewhere, the dance was once viewed as a language in its own right. Integrated to the social life, she had many duties, including that to gather and celebrate the change of seasons, crops or fisheries. “The dances of the gathering were really codified, and everyone could participate,” recalls Catherine Joncas, founder of and mentor to the company’s artistic Ondinnok.

“There were also dances of a more personal and shamanic, where the performer gave himself and was the link with the sacred. There were a variety of dances, and this is one of the first things that have been crushed during the invasions, because the dances were perceived as extremely provocative, and we felt all the strength they could hold, ” continued the commissioner, of a first event entirely devoted to native dance which will be held in Tangent.

Body is hindered, the dancing body is presented as a series of circles of discussion, performance and workshops, forms of exchange, combining the conversation at the practice where will be discussed the great issues of the choreographic art current of indigenous peoples in a spirit of openness and sharing. Long time prohibited until the 1950s, the traditions and dances of the first peoples were practising in secret. They are easily transmitted and have somehow survived the attempts of assimilation exercised by the colonial societies.

Les danses autochtones sous toutes leurs coutures

Photo: Valérian Mazataud The Duty
Catherine Joncas and Barbara Diabo

Thus, for many designers and creative indigenous people, their art is intimately linked with a quest for identity and re-appropriation of ancestral knowledge. So how can one reconcile the reactivation of traditions, the search for the body of ancestral and the desire to fit in with the contemporary ?

“Each artist has his way of doing it, depending on the culture. The body, want, not want, it is him who carries your genetics, your DNA. For the people iroquoians, the past is there all the time, you carry in you your ancestors. This reconnection with the body is ancestral, it is because there has been so many cuts. The native body has been so ostracized that it can leave traces. I think that no aboriginal artist cannot make the economy of it, ” says Catherine Joncas, citing as an example the choreographer and performer of contemporary Lara Kramer whose work is inseparable from his personal history and the subsidiary.

Decolonizing and train the next

The dancer of hoops Barbara Diabo rejects the label folk that we glue to wrong practices of art in constant evolution. A categorization that has the effect of confining them to a vision to the past, almost a museum. “For my part, I explore and wonder constantly about the ways to combine the traditional forms [forms] contemporary,” explains the choreographer mohawk, which integrates in her practice of the “Hoop Dance” (dance of pow-wow) of the movements and techniques of contemporary dance and urban as breakdancing.

“The merging of these codes, it is a way to explore which for me is infinite ; but there is no one answer and only one way of linking the traditional to the contemporary. It is personal to every artist, it depends on his life experience and it differs from one culture to another. “

For Catherine Joncas, it was also important, through programming, to highlight the diversity of aboriginal cultures and to interact as rarely as many of the dancers jigging, pow-wow, urban dance as choreographers contemporary such as Daina Ashbee. “The artists are working hard to refine their signs of belonging, their own language and modes of expression. These artists are extremely diverse. They recognize of course, as belonging to indigenous peoples, but they also agree with their honours. For example, the experience iroquois is very different from the experience of innu. This must be taken into consideration. “

The event is also an opportunity for non-aboriginal people to familiarize themselves with the codes of representation that are unfamiliar, train — or even decolonized — look in their eyes ?

The artists of the first peoples themselves are doing this work of de-colonization and re-appropriation. It is true that the general public should also learn to look well in order to be able to appreciate and get something out of it.

— Catherine Joncas

“Because the dancers indigenous to keep their functions and do not consider the audience as people came to admire it. They consider that they are participating in something greater than themselves “, she says, inviting each participant and spectator to come with open minds and open hearts.


While we find more and more of hybridity and mestizaje cultural practices of dance in contemporary and urban, it often happens to native artists to recognize loans unconscious and conscious of the cultures of the first peoples in the history of contemporary dance and in signatures choreographic current.

This is seen in practices performative inspired by shamanism, reflected by forms of endurance, of tolerance and of gift of self, repetition of the same movement, pushed it up to the trance or transformation ; but also in the use of certain symbols and references cosmologies indigenous as well as the use of rhythms, music and songs scene. One of the round tables will be devoted to this issue burning.

“The recognition of these loans allows artists borrowing and their public to open its eyes to the fact that the territory on which we walk every day is full of a history that is less known with which it is necessary to get back in touch,” says the dancer maliseet and quebec Ivanie Aubin-Malo. For her, an appropriation that is respectful depends on the manner in which the practice has been learned, and offered. “It is necessary to approach it with humility and not to take back these items only for profit individual. “

A vision shared by Barbara Diabo, who sees a fine line between inspiration and appropriation : “there are a lot of people who attend workshops and decide to shoot elements for their dance, without understanding the meaning and the history behind it, without asking permission to the community and to use it for their own benefit — and I’m not necessarily financial gain. There are dances of my own people that even I can’t perform on stage, out of respect for the ceremonies. It is often through pure ignorance that the appropriation is made, more than by evil intent. There is a duty to educate. “

“The fact of awareness in relation to the territory that it occupies, and to be on the lookout about the links and relationships that one has with the indigenous peoples, it is part of a society that is more healthy,” says Ivanie Aubin-Malo, for which it is crucial to return to the earth and what surrounds us to better communicate and exchange on an equal footing.

Body is hindered, the dancing body

Conversations, performances and workshops around the native dance of today. An event presented by the company Ondinnok and Tangent, from 2 to 4 may at the Building Wilder – Espace danse