Iqaluit women stomp their way onto local arts scene
Kasuktaqtiit performs South African-inspired gumboot dancing
Slap, stomp, stomp.
It’s a long way from the southern tip of Africa to the Canadian Arctic, but its rhythms have recently been heard coming out of an Iqaluit garage, a yoga studio and more recently, on stage at arts events held in Nunavut’s capital.
A group of six Iqaluit women, each sporting rubber boots and individually-coloured pairs of duffle socks, have brought a South African dance tradition to the North.
Gumboot dance requires a solid dancing surface for stomping boot soles on, and two hands to clap and slap the boots’ sides, while dancers often incorporate song or spoken word into the performance.
Marie Viivi Belleau had just moved back to Iqaluit last year after graduating from law school, when a friend, Maxine Carroll, came over to show her a gumboot sequence she was working on.
“I got off my chair right away and said ‘teach me that,’” Belleau said. “It really packs a punch and I found it very impressive.”
Belleau, Carroll and four other Iqaluit women have gradually formed a gumboot group, learning basic steps together in one member’s garage, sometimes in parkas to keep warm.
The group’s other members include Christine Lamothe, Miali Buscemi, Rosanne D’Orazio and Jannie Wing-sea Leung.
The women have since emerged as Kasuktaqtiit, which means to stomp, or make a noise, and have begun performing at local events.
“It’s not just a physical dance, we’re also trying to send a message,” Belleau said, referring to the group’s name.
“Making a noise” also includes social commentary, like Kasuktaqtiit’s recent performance called “Anirsarlanga! Let me Breathe!” — a reference to Iqaluit’s long-burning dump fire and the health risks it poses to the population.
Gumboot dance has its own political origins; the dance was created during the apartheid era by black South Africans who worked in dark and flooded gold mines. Miners learned to use their rubber boots to communicate with co-workers, and eventually as a form of entertainment as they worked.
“They used their bodies and their boots to communicate through the mines,” said Kasuktaqtiit member Maxine Carroll, “and through really tough times, they kept their spirits up.”
Kasuktaqtiit has incorporated Inuit culture into their performance, through the use of Inuktitut, throat song and some of their dance’s themes.
One issue the group has addressed in performance is depression and mental health, Carroll said.
But the group’s inspiration isn’t all heavy; Kasuktaqtiit’s first live performance, at Iqaluit’s Toonik Tyme, celebrated the return of the sun. At a Nunavut Day event, the group’s dance paid homage to the efforts that led to the creation of the territory.
Kasuktaqtiit’s members say they find gumboot dance a challenge, but overall, it’s good fun.
“Just having that weekly thing, to come together as a group and release our stress,” Carroll said. “We laugh a lot.”
Carroll said the group has even met with some South African residents of Iqaluit, who have provided advice and encouragement to the group.
Kasuktaqtiit is scheduled to perform next Sept. 10 at the Embrace Life Council Suicide prevention event.
“The response has been good,” Belleau said. “We’ve been in demand, so it must be that people enjoy it.”
Belleau and Carroll said one of the group’s goals is to network with a South Africa’s Kliptown Youth Program’s gumboot dancers and bring them to perform at Iqaluit’s Alianait arts festival.
You can follow Kasuktaqtiit on their Facebook page.