BWW Dance Review: Thunderbird American Indian Dancers Present Concert at Theater for The New City
The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers are presenting their latest concert at Theater for the New City February 2-11, 2018. Directed by Crystal Field, the show incorporates live music, storytelling, and traditional dance in full regalia.
As we entered the theater, we were greeted with a drum circle, although most of the dances were accompanied by voice and one or two hand drums, with the inclusion of a flute and a guitar late in the program. The company included dancers from a wide variety of American Indian tribes from across the U.S., as well as two from Central America. The age range of the dancers was also wide from a little girl to older men and women.
Louis Mofsie introduced each piece, explaining its background. One of the most intriguing was the Stomp Dance, which originated with school-age Indian children who were placed in boarding schools in order to assimilate them into white culture. They weren't allowed to speak their own languages, to dance, or to sing. So they would sneak away from the school to sing and dance together in secret. Since they were from many tribes that spoke different languages, they created songs with made-up words.
Dances that are standard at powwows were also included in the program, such as the men's traditional dance, grass dance, and fancy dance, and the women's jingle dress and shawl dances. The men's traditional dance is usually done in brown and white costumes with lots of feathers. They bend their knees and move like birds with sharp head darts.
The grass dance, which is done in a colorful costume with different shades of fringe, originated when tribes needed to move their camps. The men would arrive at the new site beforehand and use the dance to smooth the grass for the others.
The men's fancy dance, also performed in a colorful costume, is the most exciting, as it requires fast spins and intricate footwork, crossing one foot in front of or behind the other during the turns.
The women's shawl dance also involves fast spins as they use their arms to extend large embroidered shawls with long fringe. This dance and the men's fancy dance didn't originate until around the time of World War II.
The most impressive dance of the evening was the hoop dance performed by Michael Taylor. He manipulated six large hoops, often moving his body through them or connecting them along his outstretched arms.
Thunderbird is the oldest American Indian dance company in the U.S., having been founded in 1963. While I have seen better dancers in powwow competitions, the company provides an important education to those who are unfamiliar with traditional American Indian dance and music. I especially recommend taking interested children to the show, but bear in mind that one piece depicts the killing of a deer.
Friday and Saturday night shows are at 8:00, and Sunday matinees are at 3:00. Children's tickets are just $1 with an adult ticket of $12.
PHOTO CREDIT: Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation