Drum dancing has been part of Inuit and Mackenzie Delta Inuvialuit musical life for centuries. This social activity can happen at just about any gathering, including births, weddings, funerals, and to celebrate successful hunts and tourist events. All members of the community can drum dance. Usually Inuit women sat in a large circle and did most of the singing. The men would drum and dance in the centre. Dancers would start by offering to do a dance or they could be “coaxed” into dancing when other men or women would sing a personal song that one of the men had written. The man whose song was being sung would then pick up the drum in the centre of the circle and dance and play. Drum dances often lasted all night and included children.
Drum dancing was originally thought to be spiritual and was used to contact special spirits of the hunt or fishing or for protection. As Christianity and modern life influenced the Inuit to abandon shamanistic practices the drum dance became more of a community and social event. Originally the drum dances happened once a year. Now they can happen at any time. Both women and men do drum dances now. In the Cape Dorset area the drum dance is known as Quaggi (after the large Igloo where the dance is held) while in parts of Northern Quebec it is called Pisiq (which is a specific type of song).
The following is a short description of a traditional drum dance from the Cape Dorset region.
People would all gather into one place at night, when all the things that needed to be done had been dealt with. When there was still time, before it was too late, invitations would be shouted out. ‘QAGGIAVUUT”. The people would start going to a place where the drum dances would be held then to enjoy the night. They would go to a place where the Igloo was the largest in the community.
The women would all sit and band together; there would be two groups; the idea was for them to sing together while the men danced to the song. Once he was done, he would lay down the drum and someone else would pick it up. Soon another man would step up and begin to drum.
When the composition of the drummer was done the singers would stop singing. The man would leave the drum and someone else would pick it up. The women would agree among themselves which song they would sing. Once that was established, the dancer’s wife would lead off, and the man would start to dance with the drum. Each man would take their turn in picking up the drum to dance
[ http://collections.ic.gc.ca/cape_dorset/drd.html (Last accessed 17 October 2004 and no longer available ].