Cambridge Bay rediscovers the joy of movement
“I’m glad to see everyone back dancing”
CAMBRIDGE BAY— In Cambridge Bay, they’re dancing their way back to wellness.
That’s the way it looks to 61-year-old Eva Otokiak, who watched the community’s square dancers swing their partners around and around last Wednesday evening, just as they did more than 40 years ago.
As a child, she and her parents would travel from Bathurst Inlet to Cambridge Bay to find three fiddlers playing dance tunes in the tiny school while everyone in town square danced.
But later, when she moved to Cambridge Bay permanently, no one danced. Drinking and gambling had taken over.
Now, things are changing: “I’m glad to see everyone back dancing,” she said, clapping her hands.
Square-dancing only returned to Cambridge Bay at the beginning of 2011.
But you can already find more than 30 adults on the floor of the Luke Novoligak community hall every Wednesday night for square dance practice, and many more people of all ages watching their moves.
This all happened because Natasha Neglak, who learned to dance as a child, decided to revive her favourite youthful pastime.
Only about half of those who turned out for the first practice knew how to square dance, she said, but they’re learning as they go, and “we’re all having so much fun.”
“Everybody’s being like kids,” Neglak said, who’s also planning to offer square dancing for youth and a group just for women — because more women than men generally show up to dance.
For now, the square dance group meets Wednesday nights from 8:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., but often the dancers have so much fun, no one wants to stop.
By 10:00 p.m., some dancers have danced non-stop since 7:00 p.m..
That’s because, not only do they square dance, but they also practice earlier in the evening with Cambridge Bay’s Innuinait drummers and dancers group, led by Julia Ogina and Jerry Puglik.
Ogina, originally from Uluhaktok — formerly known as Holman Island — says her first childhood memory goes back to a time when her parents attended a drum dance at her great-grandfather’s house.
But like many of her generation, Ogina, 48, never learned to drum dance.
Now, in Cambridge Bay, where she’s a programs coordinator at the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, she uses drum dancing to teach language and culture.
During the Wednesday practice, she tells the 30 or so dancers about the meaning of the words and movements used in the songs of celebration.
There’s one song about a woman butchering a whale with her ulu for the first time, and there’s another about the joy of children sliding in the snow on a spring day, and yet another about a seal hunter’s happiness about returning to his family with meat.
Jason Akoluk, 29, who has been doing traditional dancing for 15 years and who now square dances, said dancing helps him focus on his life “and keeps him out of trouble.”
While dancing for hours takes a lot of energy, it also gives him energy, he said. Although he doesn’t speak Innuinaqtun, he now knows a repertoire of songs and dances.
Seven-year-old River Daniel keeps a look of intense concentration on her face as she learns the movements,while Kalinda Kobolgina, 22, one of the older dancers, helps guide the novices.
Most of the dancers are young, but there’s no age limit, and the class welcomes Inuit and non-Inuit alike.
Last week, professional wrestler Kryss Thorn and Jenni Linkson, a hip-hop dancer, who visited Cambridge Bay from Toronto, joined in the evening of dance.
The two visited for a week to bring yet another form of dance to the community. They taught hip hop to people of all ages during the school break and drew as many as 50 youth to daily practices.
The hamlet continues to spend thousands of dollars, encouraging dance groups and other recreational activities for all ages, said Cambridge Bay’s deputy mayor Wilf Wilcox.
“These things are good for the fibre of the community,” Wilcox said.