PREST: John Mann's spirit lives on in Canada's 'official dance'

Nothing got more Canadians dancing than this great song

Let’s talk about the national dance of Canada.

No, not the thing where your buddy drops a bit of snow down the back of your snowsuit and you let out a yelp and do a little jig. No, not the thing where you’re at the grocery store and you lay your hand on the last bag of Cheezies just as another fella in plaid makes a grab, and then you spend the rest of eternity insisting that other person should take it.

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No, not that thing where the sidewalk is so icy that you have to shimmy down the block keeping your hands out and both boots flat on the ground.

I’m talking about a real dance, something that immediately springs to mind if you say “Canadian dancing.”

Other countries have dances that are intrinsically linked to their national identity.

Ireland has that dance where they keep their hands motionless at their sides and look straight ahead while their legs are bouncing, tapping, kicking and crossing in wildly entertaining ways.

Ukraine has that dance where the men dress up like flair ninjas and the women dress like sexy milkmaids and they proceed to whirl, jump, and bend in astonishing ways that would lead most mere mortals to multiple knee surgeries.

Brazil? The samba! Argentina? The tango! These two South American dances, when performed by trained professionals, can get anyone within a quarter-mile pregnant.

The U.S.A. has that dance where they run around trying to dodge each other’s bullets.       

But what about Canada? What is our national dance?

I asked my friend, internet, the other day, and internet told me that Canada’s national dance might be the Red River Jig. Now I consider myself a pretty good Canadian – I’ve listened to Bob and Doug McKenzie’s The Great White North album probably 95 times, and once drove two hours just for a decent poutine – but never in my life have I been caught up in a Red River Jig, as enjoyable as that sounds.

Other sources list square dancing as a prototypical Canadian dance. Do you know how to square dance? Let’s try right now – stand up and follow these simple steps: Bow to your partner. Bow to your corner. Allemande left. Allemande right. Circle to the left. Circle to the right. Do-si-do. Roll away to a half sashay. Now promenade! 

That was fun, wasn’t it? Did you nail all the steps of our official dance? My bet is the vast majority of Canadians have never square danced, our maybe did it once in Grade 6 gym class and never again. Maybe we should bring it back! There’s something wholesomely sexy about grabbing a gal in cowboy boots and giving her a knowing wink as you “promenade!”

But that can’t be the official dance for a modern Canada, can it?

I’ve got an alternative, one that my friends and I literally called “Canadian dancing” when we were growing up. It’s one that I’ve done hundreds of times, and I’m sure many of you have done several times in your life too.

It’s one dance centred on one song centred on one wonderful Canadian: John Mann.

Spirit of the West, a band with deep ties to the North Shore, put the song “Home for a Rest” on their album Save This House in 1990, and since then the rollicking tune has been blasted in bars, at weddings, in dorm rooms and on dance floors across this vast country. The result is always the same: people pile together into one big smiling, shouty mass and start dancing.

This isn’t a prescribed dance like the Macarena or the Boot Scootin’ Boogie, although there are several elements that are present every time the song starts playing. There is much jumping. There is flailing and kicking (always done respectfully). There is usually attempted jigging. And, of course, everyone goes completely bonkers when John Mann screams out “take me home!!”

I can’t think of a more Canadian dance experience than joining with a bunch of hosers – and I’ve seen this done around the world – and thrashing about to a rock song that is capped off with the world’s most kick-ass flute solo.

That is the most quintessential “Canadian dancing” I could possibly think of. It couldn’t get any more Canadian – the song literally starts with an apology!

“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best….”

We lost John Mann to early-onset Alzheimer’s at the far-too-young age of 57 earlier this week. Many in these parts had the pleasure of knowing him well – check out this wonderful tribute from fellow Hillside Secondary alum Grant Lawrence – but even those who didn’t know him personally shared many great moments with friends bouncing and laughing to John Mann’s words in pure Canuck delirium.

It’s the official Canadian dance, and I can’t think of many better legacies one could bequeath to a nation. And John, no excuses needed – when you were leading us in our national dance, you were always at your best.

Now, “take me home!”

Andy Prest is the sports editor for the North Shore News and writes a biweekly humour/lifestyle column. aprest@nsnews.com

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