Cambridge Bay drummers and dancers introduce songs to Iqaluit youth
Tillirtuq My Heart Beats concert set for Feb. 14 at Inuksuk High School
About 20 students at Iqaluit’s Inuksuk High School, dressed in hoodies, caps and jeans, listen as Julia Ogina and two dancers, Jason Akoluk and Kalina Koblogina, all of Cambridge Bay and wearing elaborate parkas edged with wolf and wolverine fur, lead a drum dancing workshop Feb. 12.
After explaining the importance of preserving drum dancing songs in the western Arctic, Ogina, Akoluk and Koblogina start to sing in Innuinaqtun.
Ogina and Akoluk then take up their drums during the second verse.
“If you feel the urge to go up and dance, go up and dance,” Ogina says to the students, who remain sitting in their chairs, listening.
“The first time I picked up a drum it was so heavy,” Ogina tells the small crowd. “Don’t let that stop you. You never know what skills you have until you go out and try.”
Akoluk and Koblogina’s movements depict a beluga whale hunt. They portray the whales and the hunters, moving their arms in a spear-throwing action.
This song tells about a young girl who always had everything done for her, until one day she realized she would have to learn how to hunt beluga.
Akoluk stomps his feet and drums. He’s wearing gloves with strips of wolverine fur hanging from the tips of the fingers, which move along with him.
“How come the boys stomp and the girls don’t?” a female student asks Ogina, who explains that the movements are based on traditional dances, and that’s the way they’ve been performed over the years.
Ogina tells the students that she never knew she could sing or dance until she was an adult.
But like many of her generation, Ogina, 50, originally from Uluhaktok — formerly known as Holman Island — never learned to drum dance, although her first childhood memory goes back to a time when her parents attended a drum dance at her great-grandfather’s house.
Now, in Cambridge Bay, where she’s a programs coordinator at the Kitikmeot Inuit Association, she uses drum dancing to teach language and culture.
“You don’t have to be an elder to tell your story,” she says, passing around her drum during the Inuksuk workshop, so the students can try it out.
“I could always tell when they are captivated. You can tell they’re watching, you can see their movement in their face, their head, their body, and they’re watching,” Ogina told Nunatsiaq News in an interview after the workshop.
Ogina said she knows when young people start to become interested in the workshop.
“I know they are following what we’re saying and they’re asking questions,” she said.
If the kids haven’t seen that kind of dancing before, Ogina said she can see a change in their attitudes from when they come in to the workshop to when they leave.
“I found that at the beginning, they were very shy, they couldn’t make eye contact, and every time I looked at them they turned away. [But] at the end they were able to ask questions,” she said.
As for trying out the drum, “I knew I wasn’t going to get them up to dance but I knew some of them would try the drum if we passed it around, it’s our way of connecting.”
But even if students don’t get up and dance, “they are participating because they’re listening and they’re watching.”
It’s important for young people to take part in any kind of music and any kind of dance, Ogina said.
“Any song, and it doesn’t matter what language, there’s always a storyline and a feeling and emotion to go with the song,” said Ogina, adding that she feels good sharing the stories that are passed on through generations.
And sometimes the dancers themselves create now motions to add to the story that they are telling, such as animal migrations, or learning a new skill.
Inuksuk student Elaine Kanayuk, 15, said she “didn’t know what to expect” from the workshop, but she liked the dancing and drumming and might try it out in the future after the workshop’s introduction.
The Inuksuk workshop was offered part of this week’s Qaggiavuut Society’s arts summit, which brought together performing artists from around Nunavut to Iqaluit for meetings, workshops, and public performances of storytelling, acting, drumming, dancing and singing.
If you’re in Iqaluit, you can also see the Cambridge Bay drummers and dancers perform along with others from the summit Feb. 14 at 7 p.m. at Inuksuk High School.
Admission to the Tillirtuq My Heart Beats concert, celebrating Nunavut performers, dancers, elders, singers, actors and musicians, is by a voluntary donation.