First of all, you might ask “What is a Limberjack?” A Limberjack is a loose-limbed dancing doll! One version of the Limberjack’s origins describes a seventeenth-century puppeteer having broken the strings to one of his marionettes while performing. Thinking quickly, he mounted a stick into the puppet’s back and used a wooden shingle for him to dance on, much to the delight of his audience. The rest is, as they say, folk history.
These lively dancing dolls found their way into the lives of the voyageurs, habitants and shanty men of early Canadian culture. Accompanied by a fiddle, accordion, jaw-harp or simply a stomping boot, one imagines the laughter and relief they brought at the end of a day’s backbreaking efforts, or during a seemingly endless winter’s darkness.
A Limberjack is quite easy to play! Get your music cued up, whether it’s fiddle music or something else with a lively rhythm. Place the dancing board on a chair or stump, and sit on it with one end projecting in front of you. The doll, with the dowel in his back, should be encouraged to bow to the audience as good performers do, and start the music. While one hand holds the dancer over the board by the dowel, the other taps the board to the rhythm. Your task will be to learn all of the fancy footwork that they are able to do!
You can give your Limberjack its own personality by whittling it, painting it, making clothes for him or her, or leaving as is. Once you have inserted the dowel into the hole in the Limberjack’s back, they are ready to dance! The Limberjack is now available in our Museum’s store or you can purchase it here. If you have customized your own Limberjack I would love to see it! Email your work-of-art to [email protected] .