2021-2022 Season,  Contemporary Voices

Holy Culture

By Emma Rollins, dramaturg

While music has always been an integral part of many cultures, for Native Americans dance and music are very special to their culture. From healing dances such as the Jingle Dress dance to spiritual ones like the Eagle Dance to more fun PowWow style dances such as the Fancy Dances, their culture is very connected to the Heavenly Spirit in many ways. So we invited some people who were Native American to come and speak to the cast and crew. We were able to invite Cheyanne Elton, a dancer with Living Legends in the Native American section who’s also minoring in American Indian Studies, and we invited Naabaahii Tsosie, a Native American dancer who travels the world and shows off his culture. Cheyanne was able to talk with us a lot about their culture, and Naabaahii was able to talk with us and show us some of the things behind dance in his culture. 

A very popular dance that many people know, and some Native Americans practice their whole life, is the Hoop Dance. Each hoop represents eternity like our Father in Heaven, never having a beginning or an end. Each hoop can be decorated how the dancer would like, either because of the significant background or even if they just like the colors. The dancer will lay them out and dance around to music while adding the hoops, flipping them between their legs and around their body making intricate shapes. Some of the shapes have significant meaning. For example, the Eagle is a very sacred bird to Native Americans as it flies the highest, meaning it gets the closest to God. So they often will do moves they call the Eagle which we as a cast and crew had the opportunity to learn from Naabaahii Tsosie a Navajo dancer.

Naabaahii Tsosie

Currently, Naabaahii is a dancer who goes around the world and has been to places like Brazil, China, and all over to be able to dance his familial cultural dances. He also is was the recent president of the Native American Club here on BYU Campus, Tribe of Many Feathers. While Naabaahii loves sharing his culture through Native American dance, he doesn’t necessarily want to do that for the rest of his life. He is studying neuroscience and hopes to be able to go into the medical field, go to the reservation where his family is from and be able to bring easier and better health care. His father currently works on a reservation and he has familial ties to one so he spoke of how life on reservations isn’t very well taken care of and many young adults are encouraged to leave, get an education, and come back to help the life there. He hopes to bring better ways of life to the reservation as well as be able to help preserve his culture, just as he already does with dance.

So Naabaahii was able to teach the cast and crew some of the different shapes one can make with the hoops. In the picture above are some of the cast, and the director, learning a very simple eagle. He also taught the snake and wowed us with making other things such as making a world with the rings. There are many different things you can make and create. Dancers who train their whole lives have the ability to majestically dance while looping the hoops around creating these complex patterns. 

Practicing hoop dancing in rehearsal

We learned about Native Americans, specifically native culture of the Navajo tribe, and their dancing, specifically hoop dancing which comes from the Hopi or Pueblo people, although it’s very popular within many different tribes. Naabaahii also spoke of other tribes’ dances and some that are very specific and some that are a little more open, such as PowWow dances. Naabaahii spoke of how he tries to teach people who are interested in Native American dancing. He stated, “We are a dying people” and because of that, he strives to keep his culture alive. However, he did mention that there are very sacred dances that he will only ever teach to someone of Native American bloodline because they are so sacred and special and he doesn’t want to dishonor them. He also spoke of the differences between the many tribes and the different dances each does. He personally believes in tribal unity, which is where tribes support and help one another so they don’t lose their culture to the world surrounding them. 

Naabaahii creating a world with his hoops


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