Vernacular Sociality and Regional Iconicity in Step Dance

French Newfoundland


Within Newfoundland there are number of vernacular regions characterized by particular historical, social, geographical and other conditions which had an impact on the practice of dance. Of particular importance have been factors influencing the available elements of dance and music repertory directly, the history of settlement, and subsequent contact and interaction with the changing world of music in dance beyond Newfoundland. Thus French Newfoundland, on the Port-au-Port Peninsula is a distinct vernacular region in itself.


Video 1. Colin. Dancers from the Port-au-Port Penninsula at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival 1977 in St. John's, zoom-edited to better show the stepping. Recorded at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival 1977, "Good Entertainment '77", Memorial University of Newfoundland Educational TV, tape cat. #10 304, 1979.


Its best known fiddler, Emile Benoit, and members of his family can be seen playing and dancing at home on the Canada and the United States volume of the JVC/Smithsonian Music and Dance of the Americas video series (Benoit 1995). I also recorded him and members of his family making music and dancing together on man occasions.


Video 2. Emile Benoit and his family at home. His son Wayne is prompted to dance and after a while Emile’s brother Joachim joins him.


Video 3. Joachim Benoit being interviewed at home in Black Duck Brook 1989. He demonstrates some of the steps he used to dance and then performs some of them briefly while the author plays violin.


The Codroy Valley area of southwest Newfoundland is also somewhat distinct, being settled largely as an extension of the more Scottish population in the neighboring maritime province of Nova Scotia. The rest of Newfoundland land is dominated by a mix of English and Irish settlers and distinguishing between their dancing is much more difficult, as the two groups have mixed and influenced one another. Characteristics of music/dance culture are more aligned to the vernacular regions formed by the different bays around which settlements are scattered than along this ethnic-religious division. It is to this English and Irish Newfoundland culture that I now direct my attention.