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The end of the dance

The Sikumiut dance troupe's drums fell silent when its founders quit over lack of money and community support.

Nathan VanderKlippe
Northern News Services

Iqaluit (Nov 26/01) - One of Nunavut's most popular cultural exports, the Sikumiut dance troupe has called it quits.

Those who dole out the grants say government now has other priorities, but the group's founders suspect they were no longer traditional enough.

An Iqaluit dance troupe that catapulted to fame on April 1, 1999, has been abruptly disbanded by its founders.

Gayle Reddick and Zinour Fathoullin founded Sikumiut Inuit Dancers and Drummers. Since that debut performance, the husband-and-wife team led the group of Inuit dancers to seven countries, performing as far away as Ukraine.

The couple cited a lack of funding and weak community support for their recent and sudden departure for Calgary.

"You get tired of just trying to go against the grain," said Reddick. "Because we're not Inuit, sometimes we didn't feel like we had a leg to stand on since Inuit were speaking out against us."

The couple considered themselves ambassadors for Canadian Inuit. Not only were they bringing traditional dance outside of the North, they also planned to host fashion shows using Inuit products.

But the troupe was plagued by dancers who quit days before performances. "Always someone was doing that, leaving us in a very bad situation," said Fathoullin.

Over the course of its two years in Iqaluit, the troupe secured more than $350,000 in grants, most of which was used to finance dancer salaries, local businesses, seamstresses and drum makers.

Included in that were two grants from the Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth. According to deputy minister Carmen Levi, CLEY just doesn't have the money anymore.

"We have an arts council that promotes arts," she said. "But our grants and contributions are very limited -- we have $145,000 for arts for all of Nunavut."

The department is also committed to other projects, including construction of a heritage centre to house Inuit artifacts that are now strewn across North America in different museums. As a result, many artistic fields, including dance, are taking a back seat.

Traditional yet modern

Sikumiut dancers made a name for themselves when their inaugural show for the Nunavut celebration was broadcast to a global audience.

They drew praise from around the world, and took their throat-singing and drum-dancing act on the road.

"They were important to the North, said Peter Ittinuar, who works for the Department of Sustainable Development. "They were a contemporary dance troupe that had taken traditional forms and modernized them. There were some purists who thought that it was not representative of Inuit culture, but then they said that about Bob Dylan when he went electric."

Ittinuar was also president of the board of directors for Sikumiut. "Dance is an important form of expression," he said. "We just had not provided a mechanism for funding outfits like that, and we lost something quite important," he said.

The couple had strong words for the government, and its support of arts and culture.

"The government of Nunavut keeps whining about Inuit culture disappearing, but they don't try to be a cultural centre," Fathoullin said. "In Russia, every village has a simple cultural centre, and the government is giving support financially."

Reddick and Fathoullin are now training Inuit dancers in Calgary, and hope to bring them back to perform in Iqaluit.

"I moved here because I'm hoping to find more professionally-minded and mature people who will appreciate what I'm doing," said Fathoullin.