Blackfoot singers and drummers lead Mount Royal in Round Dance
Drums and singing heard by all along Main Street
By Jennifer Dorozio, News Editor
As the tired shuffle of the feet of students and faculty moving from class to class continued its usual slog along Main Street the Turning Robe family was preparing something exciting.
Randy Turning Robe sits holding his drum in one hand preparing for an open school Round Dance along Mount Royal’s main hallway Tuesday March 21.
“You’ve gotta keep that style going— they call it Blackfoot style,” says Turning Robe. “We’re keeping the tradition and we’re not gonna give it up.”
Its past noon when the Round Dance begins, with Dion Simon, Mount Royal’s Medicine Trail Program Administrator, addressing a group of students, faculties and curious passers-by as they stand in a loose circle.
“Every year roughly between from the first drop of the first snowflake up until the first thunder we have what’s called […]a Round Dance,” Simon says as he stands next to the Turning Robes. He explains that a Round Dance recognizes, “those that have been here, those that have passed on into the spirit world.”
The drumming starts behind Simon as he finishes his address and explains the general movement of the dance, and then the crowd joins hands as the voices of Randy Turning Robe, his son Randy Turning Robe (of the same name) and nephew Darcy Turning Robe provide the music and pace, beating on animal skin drums.
The general movement is circling to the left, “we just kind of bounce and then we move from right to left,” says Simon.
Intermittently there is a down beat where the crowd makes its way to the center and then back out, mostly in time with the Turning Robes’ drumming. “This is pretty good to have for everybody to be part of it, bridging that gap, different cultures,” says Darcy Turning Robe. “To show them that were still here, I guess, we’re not going anywhere.”
Darcy works closely with Mount Royal on many Indigenous events and teachings, including the Treaty Seven field school and aiding in classroom discussions.
“[The Round Dance] it’s not a really religious event, it likes a gathering it’s a social event for everybody to understand what we do and be a part of it , because First Nations…in this university, it’s all over, its Indigenous everything.”
The Turning Robe’s music Darcy says, is “original style,” “We never changed it, that’s why we call it Blackfoot style, a lot of young people say ‘oh we like the Blackfoot style.”
It was the first Round Dance for many of the people present, including Mount Royal student Mafoza Abdelfhafa.
“You know actually when I start I didn’t even move but at the second turn I felt that, ‘Oh I am now professional to do this one,” says Abdelfhafa with a laugh. “I felt safe , I felt that it’s kind of interesting sharing culture, community and taking ideas.”
Between each song Dion welcomes others to join and explains context of the Round Dance. After three songs, the dance ends. In other settings, Randy Turning Robe says the dances can last all night.