Interviewers: Franziska von Rosen and Elaine Keillor
Franziska von Rosen: Can you tell me your name and a little bit about your background?
Jija Jacobs: My name is Jija Jacobs, but my nickname since I was just a baby has been Jiji, and thatís the name I go by now. Iím of the Tuscarora Nation and was born at the Tuscarora Reservation in Niagara County, near Niagara Falls, New York. However, I have lived at Six Nations [near Brantford, Ontario] almost my whole life. Many social events happen there. About three and a half years ago I started dancing in the competitions for Smoke dancing.
FvR: Can we talk a little bit about your background? How did you experience dance? Can you talk about dancing when you were little?
JJ: I went to an immersion school [at Six Nations providing instruction in Cayuga and English as well as Mohawk and English] right from kindergarten Ďtil I graduated from high school. When I was at elementary school one teacher would come in to do dancing and singing and get us involved that way. Then they would have socials and we would go there to have fun. Thatís pretty much what happened.
FvR: So it was a cool thing to do when you were young?
JJ: It was just something that everyone did. Everybody had fun, but the teacher for that class would only be there once a week for an hour. And then every last Friday of the month there would be a social for the whole school and we would go and dance. And even though it was an immersion school, there were those students who were taught basically in English. So those students didnít get much of that stuff. It was not too much in their background. But everybody would dance during a social.
FvR: So you were learning these things in school when you were little. Can I ask how old you are?
JJ: Iím 18 years old.
FvR: What about in the rest of your community? Did these things happen only in school?
JJ: No, it didnít just happen in my school. It was not a regular thing to have socials, but when it would happen lots of people would go. Not everybody from the community would go, though.
FvR: So when did you first start Smoke Dancing?
JJ: I started Smoke Dancing about 3Ĺ years ago. I went to a powwow where people register for dancing during the weekend or just go there to be a spectator. So my cousin registered me for dancing although I was not planning on dancing because I had never danced before, in Smoke Dancing anyways. I put on the outfit, got my number and got out there in the competition. I wasnít too bad with it but I wasnít comfortable and so I wasnít really that good with it. But then by the end of the weekend she had worked with me and I did much better than the first time. So I just decided to make my own outfit and start dancing, and I have been doing it ever since.
FvR: Can you talk a little bit about the Smoke Dance and the moves in a Smoke Dance for young women?
JJ: For a woman itís graceful, but since itís a Smoke Dance and itís a fast dance you must go fast and still be graceful. You need to try to do some original moves but not be too original, because itís still Smoke Dancing. You have to be respectful of that. Originally it was not a womanís dance, but I donít know how we started getting into it.
Itís not hard for me, but I guess thatís probably because I have been around social dancing and so I have that background. The footwork and the way the body moves comes naturally to me. I have been in dance shows the last couple of years and we encourage audience participation. A lot of people have never seen this dance before so when they try it, they donít have its moves. I can say itís not that easy for other people.
FvR: Is there a special outfit worn by Smoke Dancers?
JJ: Well, you know itís different. Itís a dress with long sleeves; it goes past the knees. That varies because with Smoke Dance in competition itís very flashy now. There are satin dresses and they are more fitted. Then they have beadwork. The women can have crowns, beaded cuffs, collar or yoke and the barrettes and skirt with leggings and moccasins. They can have really different outfits. One can see flashy outfits with the Jingle and Fancy Shawl dancers too and those are completely different to the Traditional dancers. With Traditional dancing, you can see similar outfits to mine. The only major difference with Smoke Dance outfits is not to carry a shawl.
FvR: I hear you have won some dance competitions. Can you tell me about those events?
JJ: I just danced for the fun of it for a while and then I started being pretty good and I was placing 4th or 5th, and I even got the first [prize] at the Thunder Falls Powwow [Niagara Falls, NY] a couple of years ago. I was like, wow! These girls have been dancing I donít know how long and they were so good. The outfits were really good. I really liked their dancing but I got first! Complete disbelief! It was really exciting.
I also danced in other places like fall fairs. I placed in some of those. There is a big powwow in Schemitzun [Connecticut]. Thatís a big powwow for the Smoke Dancers, and I went there last year. There were many girls. I liked their style and their dance outfits were so beautiful, but I got second. Even before they announced the winners I knew I could have danced better but I still had fun. I donít care about the competition. So I got second.
FvR: What goes through your mind when you are dancing?
JJ: Itís hard to say because when Iím not dancing my mind is all over the place, but when Iím dancing itís hard to say what Iím thinking about. I donít really think about anything. Itís just so relaxing and just so soothing to be out there dancing even though you kind of get a workout. It is difficult for people to understand that because itís only for 30 seconds, less than a minute, but you are really working your body and moving a lot.
FvR: What is the good thing about being a dancer?
JJ: I personally love it. Usually a competition is to compete against the other dancers. But me I just love to dance. I donít care if I donít place or anything.
Itís just that when you are good at something it makes you feel really good. It boosts your confidence and itís just a good feeling altogether. That is what being a dancer is for me. Iím good at it, I enjoy it and itís just something that I fit into. So I just go out and dance and encourage other people to do it even if they are not so good. Itís just another experience. Maybe they will get the hang of it; maybe itís something thatís for them even if they don't know it, because I didnít think it was for me. I kind of wanted to do it but I lacked confidence. But I did it, I like it, I love it and Iím good at it now.
EK: Can you tell us a little about the actual songs to which you dance? Is there a wide range of Smoke Songs now?
JJ: Actually no, thereís not. There are other dances that have their songs and there is a wide range of them, but with Smoke Dance specifically I know there are 19 songs but other people say there are only around 15.
EK: Do you find it advantageous to know the song when you are in a competition and it is a song with which you are familiar? Does that help you a great deal?
JJ: Yes, it does. With the Trick Songs you have to stop on time with the beat. Itís really good to know the songs.
EK: Because you can get disqualified if you go past the beat?
JJ: You are only disqualified if a piece of your regalia becomes detached. Itís just to be a good competitor; itís good to have the right steps to be in the songs.
EK: With the Trick Songs, are those songs that may be changed in performance or do you know what the trick is going to be?
JJ: Yes. Itís just with a normal Smoke Dance it would just continue on and there are the skips and jumps, leading up to its end which you can determine. For the Trick Song, itís going really, really fast and there is a sudden stop. If you know the song you know itís there and you can get it then. There are also some songs where they sing and then stop, and then they start it up again, sing it and then stop.
EK: Do Smoke Dance songs use only vocables or are there specific words?
JJ: No specific words. Itís just vocables with the drum.
FvR: Thank you very much. That was wonderful and very interesting.
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