Dancer, Musician and Teacher Danielle Enblom of Minneapolis used her IMDA Educational Grant for travel expenses for Camp Souches a Oreilles in Quebec, Canada. Following are her comments about the experience:
“As I believe you know, my grandmother grew up in Quebec, north of Quebec City. She left her poor factory town at age 18 and learned to speak English. Aside from visits home in the summers to stay at my great grandparents’ cabin with my mom and her siblings, my grandmother never really looked back. I heard her speaking French on the phone to her siblings from time to time, and of course her strong accent still reverberates in my mind whenever I think about her. However, she did her best to live an American, English speaking life. I think she felt above the life she left behind, proud to speak Parisian French, rather than the often looked down on French of her childhood, and proud to be American. She really did become a self-made woman here.
Fast forward to 8 years ago. I took a road trip with my grandmother to Quebec, just as she was in the early stages of her Alzheimers, just as she was beginning to return to memories of her childhood more readily than those from the day before. On this trip, with some prompting, my grand’manan shared with me that her parents would often have friends over to the house, put cornmeal on the floor, and dance squares, or sets, all night with a fiddler playing in the corner! Now, she had seen me grow up in Irish music and dance with ceilis, house dances, and Irish sessions being a central part of my life since the age of 10 and she never once shared that traditional music and dancing were a regular part of her life back in Quebec. Immediately after this road trip, I went back to Belfast where I lived for 3 years. Her Alzheimers progressed, I became preoccupied with completing my MA, healing from my brain injury, and training to be a Waldorf teacher. So, I never really had the time to pursue what she had shared with me, until now!
After meeting a Quebecois fiddler and ethnomusicologist at a festival in NY this Feb, I learned that there was indeed a lot of traditional dance and music in my grandma’s region and town and that she would have of course had exposure to it. At that point, it felt significant to finally begin to learn more about this style of dance, which is so close to the forms I practice, and a part of my history. So I wrote the grant!
I then reached out to dozens of cousins and aunts and uncles in Quebec, primarily to ask for advice on how to get to the camp to study dance via bus. These communications were all in French, so it was challenging enough to simply enquire about the logistics of transportation. However, one aunt commented on the dancing, and we began an ongoing conversation about the dance traditions in my grandma’s home town and region. It is so exciting to learn about my familial ties to practices that have been central to my own life!
And it gets better! I attended the music and dance camp only hoping to learn some steps and gain some insight, which I did. If nothing else, the cultural experience of attending Quebecois dances, which are so similar to Irish set dances, but so uniquely Quebecois would have been worth my trip alone! I also befriended Normand Legault . Normand is a fabulous step dancer, and a fellow ethnochoreologist who has been doing important archival work since the 70s. He is of a few significant tradition holders of traditional dance (social and solo) in Quebec. During my time at camp, Normand provided individual instruction so I could learn at a more advanced level, and it was such a treat! After sharing my story with him, he informed me that he has video footage of dancers from my grandma’s home town and region from the 70s, and had it with him! So for a few days, I spent time watching and studying this footage. Not only was it an incredible privilege to get to view this footage, I also learned that one of the step dancers in the video is from my grandmother’s home town and has the same last name as my great grandmother! We don’t know his first name, so I have some sleuthing to do, not to mention some dance steps to practice!
Now, I also have to add that I have also been connecting with my grandfather’s side of the family, also Quebecois, with recent generations living in Manitoba and Alberta, and I’ve learned that my great grandfather Laurent, and his brother Barney were musicians in Manitoba in the early 1900s! Barney played the fiddle, and Laurent the spoons and harmonica. Who would’ve ever thought that I would spend most of my life fiddling and dancing, just by chance really, and come to find twenty-three years later that it has been in my blood all along, just waiting to be discovered!
More sleuthing to be done indeed! Who is this mystery man in Quebec, and what fiddle tunes did Barney play!!”