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Valley youngsters have ‘funnest’ time learning traditional Acadian dance

FORT KENT, Maine — Third grade students in Lynn Plourde’s class at Fort Kent Elementary School learned traditional Acadian dance from a master dance instructor on Wednesday, May 8.

Don Cunningham, left, and Cindy Larock taught Acadian dance lessons to Fort Kent Elementary School third graders on Wednesday, May 8.
(Jessica Potila | SJVT/FhF)

Cindy Larock of Lewiston, with the assistance of musician Don Cunningham, introduced the students to contra dance, Contre Calveniche, and a simplified version of the circle dance, La Bastringue.

Before beginning the dance lessons, Larock provided the youngsters with a brief history of kitchen parties among Acadian folks.

“What do you think (your great-great grandparents) might have done for fun when they had no television?” Larock asked the children.

One student suggested her ancestors likely played cards in that situation, which Larock agreed was a very strong possibility.

Third graders Kyle Paradis, left foreground, and Payton Kilcollins share an Acadian dance at Fort Kent Elementary School on Wednesday, May 8. (Jessica Potila | SJVT/FhF)

Another student suggested that his relatives played music and danced before the days of electronic devices.

This is exactly what took place in the kitchens of many traditional Acadian homes, according to Larock.

She introduced the students to homemade wooden spoons often used to keep the beat during Acadian kitchen parties.

Third grader Josh Curtis, who wants to be a country singer when he grows up, said he had never seen wooden spoons used as a musical instrument before. Curtis enthusiastically expressed his enjoyment of the dance lessons.

“At first, I was a little nervous because I’m not used to French songs and all that … but that was like the most funnest thing I have ever done,” he said.

Student Ethan Nadeau also enjoyed Larock’s visit to the school.

“My mom speaks French and she speaks English,” he said. “The dancing was fun. I liked the clapping.”

The Maine Acadian Heritage Council sponsored the event, as well as similar visits throughout the week by Larock to Van Buren Elementary School, Madawaska Elementary School, and Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville.

Ms. Lynn Plourde’s third grade class at Fort Kent Elementary School learns Acadian dance from instructor Cindy Larock on Wednesday, May 8. (Jessica Potila | SJVT/FhF)

“This program is a huge step in making sure that this traditional art is not forgotten and will continue to be transmitted throughout the generations,” said Lise Pelletier, president of the Maine Acadian Heritage Council.

“I love the opportunity to introduce young people to dancing in a fun and accessible way, so that they might be open to trying out other kinds of dancing in the future,” Larock said. “Although many of the children who participated in my workshops this week were unsure that they were going to enjoy it, it was very satisfying to hear them reply with an enthusiastic chorus of, ‘Yes,’ at the end of each session” when asked if they did enjoy themselves.

Many even asked her when they might be able to do it again.

The Maine Acadian Heritage Council is a non-profit organization with over 100 members whose mission is the preservation and celebration of Acadian culture, history, and language in the St. John Valley.

The Maine Acadian Heritage Council will again sponsor Larock who will return to the St. John Valley in August for a week of dance workshops during which parents, grandparents, and community members will be invited to participate.

“I think it would be wonderful to have children be able to dance an old-time contra dance or quadrille with their grandparents, just like at the kitchen parties that took place in Acadian households throughout the area until two or three generations ago,” Larock said.

For more information about the Maine Acadian Heritage Council, visit the group’s Facebook page.

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