FNA 2010

It's that time of year again folks! The sun shines longer, the semester is reaching its half way point, and the much anticipated Festival of Native Arts is here! For the past 37 years students, staff, faculty, and the community of Fairbanks put in plenty of hours of planning, organizing and coordinating this annual event that gathers representatives of Alaska Native people to show and share their unique and vibrant cultural heritages.

photo by Todd Paris

The arts of music, dance, and craftsmanship, both traditional and modern, are united and celebrated with three nights of dancing that pumps in the heart of Alaska and flows back to communities throughout the state. This invitation is extended to all. Whether you're a fresh or vintage local or a visitor to the state, this is an event that will absorb your being and lift your spirit; all you have to do is show up! Did I mention it's a free event with free parking?

For some communities throughout the state, dancing was or is non-existent, and over the past few decades there has been a cultural renaissance in some areas where the people have chosen to research and relearn songs from times past. Some even create their own musical compositions with accompanied choreography. Part of the reason that festival is so powerful is that is shows the resilience of Native culture. If you can imagine winters before any modern luxuries you can imagine that unity is key to mental, physical and spiritual survival, and what better way to get together than through song, dance, and of course food! This year’s theme is “True Identity: Proud of Our Heritage.” For more information and detail about the theme you can visit this website: http://www.uaf.edu/festival/theme-logo/

The Festival of Native Arts is a very special gathering for me because on that very stage at the Concert Hall is where I remember my first, big, live performance. The year was 2002, I was in eighth grade at Clark Middle School, and a dance member of the Miracle Drummers & Dancers, a Wasilla based Yup'ik (southwest Alaska Native culture) dance group. I recall having butterflies, sweaty palms, feeling the intensity of the bright lights, and lots of eyes that were facing the opposite direction of mine. Before getting on stage I express my nervousness to my mentor. She told me that when she first started dancing she would remove her glasses so that the audience would be out of focus which helped ease her worries. I decided to try her method and as I got on stage the nerves intensified. It was my first time dancing with dance fans. I was worried I would drop the fans or that my arms would forget the motions. I remember asking the drum leader what songs we were going to perform. He says, “Don’t worry; when you hear it, you will know exactly what to do.” He prepares the singers and dancers by singing solo the chorus of the song. We collect ourselves to our places and began grooving in unison. As the drumming following the increased rhythm of our heartbeats I felt complete within myself and connected to all in that moment. Since then I could not get enough of Native dancing.

photo by Edna Henry

For me, dancing is more than a passion; it's a way of life. I am Iñupiaq with northwest Alaskan roots (as well as southern Wisconsin) and was exposed to dance early on but began my formal training when entering my teenage years. I am honored to have learned under the instruction of many respected master composers, choreographers, singers, dancers and artists. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that it is the drum that moves me, the song that guides me, the energy of the community that excites me, and I sing because I am happy, I dance because I am free. My identity is my tool for my creativity. I hope you all have a chance to take a glimpse into the arts of Alaska’s original people. Let the story dances take you on journeys, let the love songs fill your heart, and let the invitational dances allow to experience the power of the drum, and the power of the people.

Mark your calendars ladies & gentlemen, Festival of Native Arts will take place March 4th-6th from 6 p.m. to midnight. The dancing will be at the Charles Davis Concert Hall and the artisans at Wood Center Multi-level Lounge. The last day of Festival (Saturday March 6) will begin with a potluck from noon to 2 p.m. at the Carol Brown Ballroom in the Wood Center. Bring a dish to share and/or have a taste of some our Alaskan favorites and so on. Following that will be a Pow-Wow from 2 to 5 p.m. There’s nothing better than starting off spring break weekend with singing, dancing, arts & crafts, and of course, food!


1 comment

imNuit said...

Ta'ku'tom'na for sharing. I remember coordinating the event in my first year of sobriety back March 1989.

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