It’s past 11:30 p.m. Tim Evic, Nunavut’s standby folk musician, is playing to a cluster of people two-stepping inside Baker Lake’s community centre. They dance inside a wider square of chairs sat on by foot-tapping elders. Behind them a gaggle of cross-armed teen boys are trying to look like they’re not enjoying themselves too much.
It’s nearing end of day two of the town’s inaugural “Festival by the Lake,” but kids are still running on full throttle, zipping around the open space, fuelled by a day’s worth of cotton candy, pop and whatever else their sticky hands got a hold of.
Hannah and I take a seat. Jamie Lee, a young woman we met earlier in the day, smiles and sits next to us. “Can you hold my daughter?” she asks, bending over and shrugging her baby daughter out of her amauti and into Hannah’s surprised arms. Jamie Lee leaves to check on her seven-year old daughter, Halluq, who’s part of the square dance crew, the “Little Amaruqs.” They were supposed to start at 11 p.m., and Jamie Lee’s worried they’re getting tired. She returns and I’m introduced to her deaf mother (I learned the sign for “Yellowknife”). Her partner. Her best friends. Her best friends’ kids.
It’s now 12:20. The kids are starting to crash as Evic strums out more country music on his acoustic with the band. He stops after a song and says some words in Inuktitut to the crowd. Then he starts another.
Karen, a festival organizer, wrings her hands at the side of the stage and comes over to Jamie Lee, her eyes wide. “He just won’t stop playing,” she says. But thankfully, for Karen at least, this is his last.
It’s 12:45. Time for the Little Amaruqs. “It’s gonna get so loud when they come out, just watch!” Jamie Lee says in my ear, beaming with excitement. The band starts up and tiny pairs of bouncing dancers holding hands file into the hall to a tremendous roar from the crowd. People clap and tap their feet along. Hannah squeals. One of the girls is red-faced after a few minutes and has to stop jigging every now and then, before re-joining her group in exasperation.
At 1:15, the Little Amaruqs form a circle. “Are they done?” asks Hannah. Halluq gets up from the circle. “I think she’s coming for you,” Hannah whispers. I look up, white-faced, as the seven-year-old trots towards me with her hand out. It’s happening in slow motion.
“You gotta do it, Dan.” I gotta do it.
Our jig is quick: I mess up the do-si-do, but the crowd is encouraging. I go back to my seat and Hannah is in stitches, but not for long. A young boy from the Little Amaruqs is heading towards her, a hand outstretched.
By 1:30 a.m. it’s all over. I can’t say I’d ever square danced before, but Hannah tells me I looked like I knew what I was doing. Maybe it’s the Scot in me. Or maybe it’s the clapping Baker Lake crowd, and little Halluq steering me in the right direction.