Section: Arts

Apache dance troupe celebrates, educates about culture

Apache dance troupe celebrates, educates about culture

Linnea Feldman Emison, Collegian

By Bailey Blaker

Despite the frigid temperatures outside, a crowd braved the cold to gather in Gund Ballroom on Tuesday, Nov. 18 to witness a performance by the Yellow Bird Apache Family Dancers, a dance troupe that travels around the world working as cultural ambassadors for the Apache nation. The performance, sponsored by Indigenous Nations at Kenyon, was the penultimate event in observance of Native American Heritage Month.   

The performance on Tuesday started with a prayer led by Ken Duncan, head and owner of the Yellow Bird Dancers, in his native language. While this moment was quite somber, it provided an appropriate counter to the rest of the night, which was full of light and laughter.

The atmosphere in the ballroom was that of a family gathering, not only because of the large number of children in the audience, but also because of the cheery disposition of the dancers. Visiting Assistant Professor of Psychology Andrea White was in attendance along with her two children. “I thought my kids would love it,” she said. White was impressed with the family-friendly atmosphere of the event and found that the cultural aspects of the performance sparked conversation between herself and her children. “It engendered some conversations with particularly my son about who Native Americans are, what’s our history, and about race,” White said.

Duncan’s son Kevin performed the first dance of the night. “The Dance of the Painted Warrior” was fast paced and awe-inspiring. The sound of the bells attached to the performer’s feet resonated within the ballroom throughout the entire dance. Five hoops were incorporated into the dance, giving the performance another level of artistry.

Throughout the event, Duncan and his wife told traditional Apache stories to the audience and shared different aspects of their culture along the way. With the snow and cold temperatures bearing down outside, the audience took comfort in the tales of pine tree people dwelling on snowy mountaintops. They were amused and delighted by a story about a dog village, that explained why dogs greet each other the way they do. The children in the audience were not the only ones taken with the beautiful colors of the dancers’ clothing. Designed as a modern take on traditional Apache garb, the dancers’ attire featured vivid colors, feathers and intricate bead work.

A natural-born storyteller, Duncan entranced the audience not only with the stories he told, but also with the enchanting songs he sang in accompaniment to his family’s dances. The clear tone of his voice rose all the way to the rafters of Gund Ballroom. The music present throughout the program worked with the visual aesthetics of the dances themselves to create an almost-mystical feeling of connectedness between the audience and the performers.

Earlier on Tuesday the Yellow Bird Dancers paid a visit to Professor of Dance Julie Brodie’s intermediate modern dance class. One of Brodie’s students, Maya Luckett ’18, remarked on the difficulty of the traditional hoop dance, saying, “Even the most basic steps are really intricate and specific.” According to Luckett, the hoop dance “comes from a lot of improvisation and experience, which we [the class] don’t have.”

“I danced a lot before I went to college, and what [Duncan] was saying about why he danced really inspired me, because I feel like sometimes I forget why I dance,” Luckett said. The inspiration behind the Yellow Bird Dancers prompted Luckett to attend the performance on Tuesday night. There, she found the cultural aspects of their performance compelling. “Oftentimes [people] will shut out cultures that are not their own, because it is too hard to relate to, but when you can try to relate through dance — something people want to see — it can be really useful,” she said.

This expression was mirrored in a closing comment Duncan gave the audience: “We no longer live in a place called America. … We are now part of a global society. We need to open our minds to learn more about other people and other cultures.”

To learn more about the Yellow Bird Dancers, visit their website, yellowbirdproductions.com.

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