People in rural Saskatchewan face a number of challenges in connecting with one another, from geographical distances to generational divides. Kitchen Party Music, based out of Forget in southeast Saskatchewan, aims to bridge those gaps by bringing back the tradition of the “old tyme" dance. The organization hired professional fiddler and dance leader Karrnell Sawitsky, along with fiddler and instructor Donna Turk, to bring music and dance to four neighbouring communities – Carlyle, Arcola, Stoughton and Kenosee Lake – in April 2019.

Kitchen Party Music has been working at reviving traditional prairie dance culture for the past 13 years through its summer music camp, the Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party. Michele Amy, Director of Programming, noticed that while the event encouraged meaningful connections among fledgling fiddlers, participants didn’t have the same opportunitieswhen they went home, as musicians are spread throughout the province. “We see what a healthy community we’ve built through music and dance, and the joy that happens throughout those two weeks. We want to expand the mandate to a more year-round effort,” she says.

Amy remarks that people of all ages love the traditional dances, which feature fiddle music and community dance styles such as reels and square dances. “When you have a group of people who are attempting to do a square dance for the first time, we often have to bully them in a nice way to get them on the dance floor. People on the sidelines are watching carefully – they come two or three times and then, one day you see them out dancing,” she says. “We have everyone from five year olds to 80year olds dancing with each other. Not one of those people has a frown on their face – there is lots of laughter. Being face to face breaks down barriers between people. I think youth are looking for this kind of connection – they put their phones down.”

Sawitsky, Turkand Amy are partnering to play fiddle, call the dances and guide the programming. They are also mentoring young, emerging fiddlers to play at the events. “We’re hoping that people in the community will see value in this and will want to organize their own dances, with us assisting by coordinating the music,” Amy says.

Kitchen Party Music received an Artists in Communities Micro-Development grant from the Saskatchewan Arts Board for the pilot project. “The grant is important because it’s allowing us to try something new and work outside of our comfort zone,” Amy says. “We are exploring whether this is a sustainable model for the future, and if it could lead to an artist-in-residence to assist in exploring local dance culture.”

The organization appreciated the vote of confidence that receiving the grant gave them. “The application process helped me clarify what it is we want to do. It’s helpful for it to go to an outside board who says, ‘This could work. This is worth putting money towards.’”

Photos: 

Top: Fiddlers Shamma Sabir, Michele Amy and Gordan Stobbe
Middle: Karrnnel Sawitsky with his class of fiddlers at Kenosee Lake Kitchen Party camp
Bottom: Karrnnel Sawitsky and Ameena Bajer-Koulack dancing at a kitchen party
Photos courtesy of Kitchen Party Music