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Square dance showdowns compete for participants

Circle left, circle right, do-si-do and maybe make big money. That combination has led to a logjam of territorial square dance showdowns. Arviat is hosting the annual Phillip Kigusiutnak Memorial Square Dance Show Down April 12 to 15 with $8,000 on the line for the top adult team. There will also be youth categories and prizes.

Square dance showdowns, like this one in Kugluktuk, are growing in popularity across Nunavut. Arviat and Cambridge Bay have showdowns scheduled for April. These Gjoa Haven dancers, who competed in Kugluktuk, are Shania Hiqiniq with partner David Junior Porter, left, and Emily Qingaqtuq with partner Iviuq Jimmy Pauloosie.
photo courtesy of DnV Photo

In Cambridge Bay, where there was talk of the Anayoak Square Dancers heading down to the Arviat competition, the decision was made to host a showdown instead. It is scheduled for April 5 to 8.

Karen Kamoayoak, one of the organizers of the Cambridge Bay Square Dance Showdown, said the hope is to breathe new life into the activity.

"We'd like to do something for our community so that a lot of kids could get interested and (we'll) try to pass down that tradition," said Kamoayoak, adding that Cambridge Bay has about a dozen regular adult dancers. "Years ago I know it was really popular around town but it's fading. So we'd like to do something to try and revive that... if the kids get a visual eye on what the dance is about then they're going to be interested in learning."

The top prize for adults in the Cambridge Bay competition will be $5,000, if funding can be secured, Kamoayoak said.

In Gjoa Haven, where square dancing is incredibly popular, the annual square dance showdown, normally held in April, won't take place until November so that teams can travel to either Cambridge Bay or to Arviat to take part in those competitions, said Elizabeth Anavilok.

"It's really growing. It's all over Nunavut now," she said of square dancing. "It's getting bigger and bigger every year."

While there is big prize money at stake, it also costs a great deal to travel to the events, Anavilok noted. She said there are consequently many fundraising activities taking place.

This year will mark Gjoa Haven's 10th year of hosting square dance tournaments. Anavilok got involved long before the showdowns started. She has seen some of the young dancers grow to become adult dancers over decades and they now have their own children practising steps.

"I start teaching the younger ones. I keep getting new groups that want to try, not only me, there are other people that are looking after their groups." Anavilok said.

After learning the basics, the dancers are often ready to show their fancy footwork in front of adoring crowds.

"It's a lot of fun to watch," Anavilok said of square dance showdowns. "Our gym gets completely packed and almost the whole town goes to watch the showdown."

A panel of judges will rate the performances based on the style, the number of mistakes and the costumes, Anavilok said.

"Dancers have different movements. They're not all the same," she said.