By Jamie McKenzie
Every second Thursday from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. since January, young girls from Kebaowek First Nation are coming together to learn Jingle Dress dancing.
Janice Wabie, from Temiskaming First Nation makes the drive to Kebaowek twice a month to teach the girls how to dance and to share her knowledge about medicines and the jingle dress.
“We start with a smudge, a sage smudge, but then we talk about the medicines and the teachings behind each medicine, and then we go into the jingle dress teachings again, so where the story came from, who began with the jingle dress and then we do the dances,” said Wabie.
The girls take the time answering questions about the medicines and talking about the traditions behind the dance before practicing the straight step and the side step, which are different styles of the Jingle Dress dance. Wabie also brings in some of the dresses that her daughters used to wear to give the girls the chance to dance with the dresses on.
“The girls practice and they each take turns trying on the dresses I have,” she said. “The Jingle Dress itself has the shiny cones and it makes the sound of rain on a tin roof.”
Jingle Dress dancing is a sacred dance, says Wabie, the dance is healing and there’s a story and teachings behind the dance and she’s always amazing at how much the girls remember from each class.
“It’s not only medicine for your body, its medicine for your soul,” said Wabie.
Wabie, herself, has been jingle dress dancing for more than 20 years. She got started in a similar way as the girls in Kebaowek, when a woman came to her community and started teaching the dance the same was she is now.
She says the woman demonstrated the dance and let the girls try on her dress. “I immediately fell in love with it.”
She was about 13 when she fell in love with the dance and wanted to start making her own dress but it took her a few years to learn how to sew her own dresses but eventually she got there and started dancing regularly when she was 18.
And for Wabie to be able to pass down her knowledge and teach this to the younger generation, she says it’s been an honour.
“To be able to share this with the young girls is my dream, this is so amazing, I’m so honoured to be able to do this in other communities and my own community,” she said.
“I’ve been asked to go into schools and it’s such a great feeling that being able to pass this down to our younger generation and to see them wear their dresses with pride and hopefully see them at more pow wow’s.”