Dancing without stars

Angela
Angela Hill
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Young woman connects to culture through dance

On Friday nights Prince Albert Women of the Earth is alive with activity - with the clatter of sewing machines young women are bringing together fabric and culture.

On Friday nights Prince Albert Women of the Earth is alive with activity - with the clatter of sewing machines young women are bringing together fabric and culture.

"Five girls, on a Friday night, that's phenomenal!" said Marlene Bear, who runs the organization and is a liaison at St. Mary High School. She would rather see them at P.A. Women of the Earth than getting into trouble.

One of the girls hard at work is Justine Antoine. She arrived more than a year ago with her kokum (grandmother) to learn to sew and to learn a little more about her Cree culture. Her kokum has moved on to new projects, but Antoine hasn't looked back.

"I'm just trying to learn everything I can. I'm even trying to lean Cree," she said. Most of the girls are learning to make starblankets or earrings from Leo Fred, who teaches everything from dance and drumming to hide tanning to people wanting to reconnect with their culture.

On Friday, Oct. 10, Antoine's focus is different - she is trying to complete her regalia in time for the Thanksgiving powwow.

Antoine began dancing when she was 10 years old for a couple of years. In that short time she was selected to represent her people from the Poundmaker First Nation as a powwow princess. Soon after, her family wasn't able to continue supporting her dancing so she stopped until she arrived at St. Mary High School.

On her first day Bear found her, asked her if she danced and signed up Antoine with the St. Mary's dancers.

Now, along with powwow dancing and jigging, Antoine is involved with Student Leadership Council, curling, the Prince Albert youth travel club, as well as taking five classes including band where she plays the saxophone.

Learning about her culture is of growing importance in Antoine's life. Her love of powwow dance makes Bear happy.

"It keeps them out of trouble," Bear said about why she tries to get so many girls involved with dance, "That's one of the things about powwow dancing - you have to keep clean."

Fred says being involved with the culture of powwow dancing has to be a lifestyle choice - a dancer can't just dance and the rest of the time "monkey around."

"If you want to be a dancer there's no booze or drugs. You have to be real," said Fred.

"You want to be a role model for everybody and they are starting to see (Antoine) as one."

Fred saw that Antoine had a genuine interest in learning to dance, so he took her under his wing.

"He's been like a dad to me," said Antoine.

"She trusts me and I trust her and I tell her don't ever break that trust and I won't ever break that trust," said Fred.

He walked her through making her first regalia, a purple jingle dress - an outfit that should have 365 jingles on it representing the days of the year. Antoine's first dress only has half the number of conical jingles but it already weighs more than five pounds.

Jingle dancing is one of three main categories for women at most powwows - the other two are traditional and fancy dancing. Antoine wants to learn to be a fancy dancer but is happy competing as a jingle dancer at the Thanksgiving powwow.

"I think of it as rain because (the jingle dress) makes the sound of rain," said Antoine.

The new dress that she is working on is to represent the name she was given - Spotted-Eagle Woman. It has bright fabric in triangles sewn on a white dress in the shape of an eagle.

In competitive jingle dancing, the flashier the dress, the more likely it is to catch the attention of the judge. The dress will be trimmed with a florescent pink fringe and the jingles will be put on in pairs.

Antoine didn't begin this journey as the sole student, but other girls who were making regalia have dropped out over the past year. Her unwavering desire to learn sets Antoine apart from her peers.

"It makes me different because I don't see other students here and trying to learn ... They just don't want to because they don't think it's cool, especially the guys," she said.

Fred has also seen youth struggle with staying interested in their culture background in the face of Hollywood movies and television.

"Our culture is so lost, especially in town," said Fred.

Fred saw that Antoine was really trying.

"I see there is something special about her."

It hasn't been easy to be different and Antoine has thought about quitting numerous times.

"At first, I was like, why am I still doing this when no one else is. It got me frustrated at first, but after a while I thought 'it makes me different' and gives me something to do on the side," said Antoine.

Despite the best intentions of Fred and Antoine, the new dress was not completed in time for the grand entry of the 10th annual Thanksgiving powwow in Prince Albert. So she began competing in her old dress. Although disappointed Antoine was glad to be dancing and visiting with her "powwow family."

"The best thing about powwows is seeing people you haven't seen in a while," said Antoine.

She alternated between visiting her friend Jennifer McGillivary, 15, a fancy dancer from Muskeg Lake, and her kokum, Rosanne Antoine, who came out to support her.

"(Dancing) keeps her occupied and she's meeting a lot of people ... it's good for her," said Rosanne.

Rosanne is grateful that Fred has been able to teach Antoine about dancing and for the work he put into her jingle dresses.

Fred arrived with the new dress just before the competitions on Monday, the last day of the powwow. Antoine disappeared to change before allowing Fred to pin the feathers into her hair before performing.

Looking a little more regal, standing a little straighter and dancing a little better, Antoine caught the attention of the judges, earning more points on the last day. Antoine didn't win at the Thanksgiving powwow, but said it was OK because she was able to learn a little more - like she does at most powwows.

"It's only my first year, so maybe I'll do better next year," said Antoine, "Leo says he's going to turn me into a champion."

ahill@paherald.sk.ca

Organizations: Mary High School, Prince Albert, Poundmaker First Nation Student Leadership Council

Geographic location: Hollywood, Muskeg Lake

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  • Justine
    February 07, 2010 - 00:28

    I loves it