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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


May 18, 2002 - Issue 61


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Youthful Dancers Serve as a Culture's Ambassadors

by Allison Cooper Daily Messenger Staff
credits: photo courtesy Ganondagan State Historic Site
Young Spirit Dance Troupe MembersVICTOR, NY - The beat of the water drum signals the dancers.

They move in a circle, their feet moving to the rhythm of the drum, wearing brightly colored traditional Iroquois dance attire adorned with ribbons and beads.

Each boy wears a Gustoweh - a head piece with a specific number of feathers attached to signify a particular tribe or nation. The girls wear an overdress with a skirt and leggings made of calico, which represents the time in history after the Iroquois made contact with the Europeans. Their moccasins are made of buckskin.

The dancers are performing a smoke dance as part of their repertoire of Iroquois social dances, which are not ceremonial but are meant for entertainment.

The Young Spirit Dancers of Ganondagan are seven area Native American teens whose goal is to introduce their culture and tradition to their peers - when they aren't in school, working at jobs in area fast-food restaurants, or playing sports such as soccer and lacrosse.

The dance troupe, formed in 1995, began as a cultural exchange program with the Pueblo people in New Mexico. Upon their return, the youths participating in the exchange decided they wanted to continue to dance and invite more Rochester-area native youth to join them.

"Our purpose is to learn the culture and educate the community about Native Americans in their community, in terms of who we are and what we do," said dancer Craig Marvin.

The teens were noticed on a PBS series entitled "New York Expeditions" by a woman whose child attends the Rodeph Sholom School in New York City.

The woman, Barbara Feldman, contacted the Museum of the American Indian and told them about the group. The museum hired the dancers for their Children's Festival on May 18 and 19. They will be performing at the Rodeph Sholom School on Monday, May 20, as well.

The group members say they are looking forward to seeing the sights, such as Central Park and WWF New York, during their free time in New York.

"I grew up like many of these kids," said Jeanette Miller, program director for the Spirit Dancers. "I was in the same situation as most of them, not really exposed to the Native American tradition and culture."

Miller says that while the task of director can be hectic at times, she feels her time with the group is well spent.

"Their self-esteem is nothing I had at their age. I'm very proud of them and what they've accomplished," she said.

The dancers will be performing at the George Eastman House on July 13 for Family Day and at Ganondagan's Native American Dance and Music Festival on July 27 and 28.

To view a photo album of the Young Spirit Dancers, click here


Ganondagan State Historic Site
Just southeast of Rochester, New York, in the town of Victor, lies Ganondagan (ga·NON·da·gan), the site of a Native American community that was a flourishing, vibrant center for the Seneca people.

Victor, NY Map
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