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Dance videos for Rankin Inlet elder’s 81st birthday go viral

A most welcome and fun break from the self-isolation doldrums that are an all-too-familiar part of battling Covid-19 came about as a son searched for a unique way to say happy birthday to his dad in Rankin Inlet this past week.

Rankin Inlet’s Robert Kabvitok jigs to the song Cotton-Eye Joe in new kamiks that his mom crafted. His dancing in tribute to his father’s 81st birthday inspired more than 120 others to record jigging videos to wish Robert’s dad, Jack, a happy birthday and to get a chance at a cash prize.
image courtesy of Robert Kabvitok/Facebook

Robert Kabvitok’s dad, Jack, had accepted the fact he would quietly celebrate his 81st birthday in Rankin on Saturday as his community continued to do its part to keep Nunavut Covid-19 free.

What Jack didn’t know at the time was that it may be quiet on his birthday, but that didn’t mean a small crowd of people couldn’t kick up their heels to help him celebrate earlier in the week; and they had the choice of whether to do it inside or out.

Robert said since people couldn’t go outside much because of Covid-19, there was no way his family could hold a singing or dancing contest to help his dad celebrate his birthday.

However, Robert has been heavily involved with the local sports scene as a player and coach for many years now and, during that time, he has become rather well-known for quietly mulling things over in his mind until an idea starts to take shape that usually results in some sort of activity that people in the community get to enjoy participating in or watching.

And, this past week, the wheels inside his head were spinning.

“I was trying to think of some sort of way we could hold a jigging contest without everyone gathering in one spot like we usually do,” said Robert.

“Holly (Mercer) said she thought it would actually be better if I danced on the video, but I disagreed with her and didn’t really want to do it until she pointed out that it would make more sense to my parents, so I agreed and that’s how it started.

“It was just going to be for any of my Facebook friends who wanted to enter a little jigging contest for Dad’s 81st birthday, and maybe win a little prize, you know, but it just took off.”

What actually happened was Robert didn’t think of adjusting his privacy settings for the video and people started sharing it.

The video went viral by Kivalliq standards and, despite all his planning to keep things low key, Robert realized the horse had already jigged its way to freedom and the contest was now open to anyone who wanted to take part in it.

“I still hadn’t committed myself to doing it but I started getting fresh requests and found myself realizing it was for my dad turning 81, so I just went with it,” said Robert.

A few videos would be randomly drawn from those entered and Robert asked family members to pitch in a bit of money so they would have cash prizes for the ones drawn. His relatives started giving immediately.

The prize numbers grew as family members donated, and soon other folks in the community started to text Robert asking if they could donate to the prize pool, as well, and it didn’t end there.

The horse that left the barn decided to go for an all-out run and people from communities outside of Rankin began to contact Robert to tell him they loved what he was doing, enjoyed watching all the people jigging and they, too, were donating to the prize pool.

More than 120 entries were submitted, with roughly half of them featuring dancers jigging outdoors for at least 30 seconds.

The prize pool was finally frozen at, from first to fifth, $400, $350, $300, $150 and $80.

“This went further than I had any right to expect,” said Robert “and seeing trees and different landscapes in the videos from the Baffin and places down south really made it more fun.

“It was also Holly’s idea for our video to be shot outdoors, so she nailed everything that would work well for this.

“It all just worked out great.”