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Thriving through dance | UDaily



“Powwow dancing is about filling the space with your body. It feels the vibration of the drums and uses every muscle,” Duran added.

Denise Murphy-Rohr, director of dance at UD, said the workshop reinforced an important lesson she imparts to her students: That dance is integral to culture and community. 

“By developing a deeper understanding of dance within many contexts, students can examine how dance is part of their own identity,” she said. 

Junior dance minor Marissa Jackson agreed. 

“It was so enlightening to see people be so proud of their culture and unapologetically show it to others and why it is important,” she said. “It reminds me to embrace myself in my own dancing and make every movement mean something.”

Jackson was also struck by the stamina needed to perform powwow dances. A standard jingle dress, for example, has 365 metal shells sewn onto it and weighs about 30 pounds, and some are even more elaborate. 

Students and faculty at a workshop centered on art, music and fashion saw a jingle dress and other pieces of clothing worn during powwow dancing, which the dancers call their regalia. 

“A costume is what you wear on Halloween — when you pretend to be someone else,” said group founder Kenneth Shirley. “When I wear my regalia, I feel more like myself.” 

Every design element in regalia has significance, and items with intricate beadwork can take months or more than a year to create. Floral or geometric patterns follow tribal traditions or are passed down in families. Duran’s black and white moccasins reflect the pottery of the Laguna Pueblo Tribe, with black representing land and white representing sky, and an “x” pattern symbolizing hills.

Members of Indigenous Enterprise are champion dancers, having won prizes at powwows across Turtle Island. They have performed around the world, appeared in a Nike commercial and last February were the first Native American group to dance at a Super Bowl. Yet, they want audiences to Native communities still face challenges. 

“There are big problems for us as a community, and it gets brushed under the rug,” Shirley said. “My grandma on the reservation has no running water or electricity. A lot of our elders don’t even have these basics.” 

Shirley urged audience members who want to help to educate themselves on these issues and find organizations that support indigenous communities. 

Despite the hardships, troupe members focus on power and hope, and the performance reveals that Native culture is thriving and vibrant. 

“With all that we experienced as indigenous people, it is through dance that we were able to survive,” Shirley said. “We represent our past. We are the present. And we will continue to thrive in our future.”

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