Telling Our Stories:
Story telling is the Shuswap
way of passing our history
to the next generations
Community Dances a long time ago
From a very early age I remember dances that were held on the reserve. There was no dance hall back then. There was no gymnasium. In fact, the biggest structure on Sugar Cane in the 1940’s and early fifties was the church, and there was one and only one use for that building. So, the only way people could hold dances was if someone would volunteer their home to be used for the celebration. And this is exactly how it used to happen. Now, these occasions did not happen that frequently and they were by no means raucous or rowdy affairs. Drunkenness was very much frowned on at these and the inebriated was more likely to be shown the door. These dances weren’t exactly what you would call family affairs because the children were put to bed before the dance started and I didn’t see any children in attendance. Looking back now, these seem like they were along the lines of what the Cajuns called a Fais do do.
I got to experience one of these when it was held at our house. I remember the excitement on the day of the dance. The wooden floor was scrubbed spotless, the table was moved outside, as well as the wood heater to make more room for the dance. A few extra benches were borrowed and then all the food was moved upstairs. Lastly, blankets were hung over every window. This is because the dances often lasted until the sun came up and they didn’t want the sun shining in on the party.
As I said, kids weren’t allowed, so Jake and I were whisked off to bed before the dance started. The fiddle player and guitar player showed up as soon as it was dark. Then the revelers began coming one by one. First came the single young bucks, then a few married couples, then the young unmarried gals showed up and the dance was on.
Of course, with all that noise happening downstairs, no one would ever expect that Jake and I would be asleep. We were, in fact, on our stomachs at the top of the stairs with our faces peaking through the two top posts on the stairs, enjoying the party as much anybody downstairs. That was not what got us into trouble. Remember we said that all the food was moved upstairs, mostly to keep away from hungry dancers. Well, Jake and I got into the box of dried apple rings. And we handed anybody who wanted some a handful. Needless to say, that box of apples didn’t last the night. I tell you now, we paid for it the next day, when we couldn’t explain the empty box.
Well I’m sorry to say that this type of pastime did not last too long after that. Alcohol started making its way into celebrations. In 1957, a dance hall was built at Sugar Cane and there would be no going back. Dances were bigger, with people from town coming out and alcohol poured like rain. And I was a participant.