Métis dance troupe makes Olympic grade

Asham Stompers wins audition to perform at Games

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The Asham Stompers are stomping their way to Vancouver.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/01/2010 (4581 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Asham Stompers are stomping their way to Vancouver.

The Métis dance troupe has won an audition to perform at this year’s Olympic Games.

They’ll dance the famous Red River Jig and other Métis jigs and square dances, born in the late 1700s and early 1800s at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine rivers.

HANDOUT PHOTO The Asham Stompers will perform at next month�s Olympic Games.

“It’s amazing. We’re extremely excited,” said Arnold Asham, leader of the 13-member dance troupe whose ages range from seven to 59.

“Our mission is to recapture and preserve the history of Métis people through the Red River Jig. We see the Olympics as the biggest stage in the world in which to spread our culture.”

The Olympics is a long way from a small cabin in the Métis community of Reedy Creek on the west side of Lake Manitoba, where Asham was home birthed along with his eight siblings. He comes by dancing naturally. His mother loved to dance and his father was a caller.

Two dance members hail from Reedy Creek, 10 kilometres south of Ebb and Flo First Nation, and another three are from Peguis First Nation. There are eight Métis and five First Nation people in the troupe.

The Asham Stompers wanted very badly to perform at the Games. Members paid their own way to Vancouver last July to audition before the Four Host First Nations, on whose territory the Games are being held. The Squamish, Lil’wat, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh are the host First Nations.

“We’ve been working on this for two or three years,” said Asham.

“All the best athletes are there, and all the best coaches, and apparently culture is no different. That’s what they call it, the best of the best in every category.”

The Red River Jig is a blend of Scottish, French, Irish and First Nations influences — and nearly resembles a polka step.

“The Red River Jig is like a double-step polka, just faster. Very, very fast,” explained Asham.

You go 1-2-3 (heel-toe-heel) on one foot, then hop, then kick out your other planted foot.

“We’re a 1-2-3 kick but there’s a really special hop in there that’s very difficult to get,” said Asham. “The dance is very distinctive. It takes a long time to learn.”

The dance was a prime form of entertainment after first contact between Europeans and aboriginals in this area. “It wasn’t unusual for people to wear out a pair of moccasins in a night from dancing. They would party until dawn,” said Asham.

Asham is also founder and president of Asham Curling Supplies. He has received numerous awards, including the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award.

While at the Olympic Games, the dancers will be boarding in a school and using air mattresses and sleeping bags for beds.

The Asham Stompers will perform at the Four Host First Nations Pavilion on Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. The Manitoba Pavilion has also listed them to perform on Feb. 14 from 3-4 p.m. and 6-7 p.m.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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