Sunday, April 10, 2016


This weekend is the annual Winterfest celebration of dance and fun.  Each year the town hosts a three night dance festival and invites other villages to come share their dances for 30 to 45 min.  Each night the order of the dancers changes with the host village being first the first night, around the middle on the second night and last on the third night.

First, Won, Competition, 1, SymbolTraditionally, any first celebration occurs on the first night.  A first celebration is where all the members of a family get up and dance to celebrate a first that a child or member of the family did.  At the end of the dance, members of the family go around, passing out gifts such as socks or gloves to those attending.

This year there were four first celebrations. Each focused on something different.:

The first one involved a young couple and family who celebrated their 2 or 3 year old daughter's first dance.  She was decked out in her own head dress, dance fans, kuspuk, and boots.  They placed her on a cow skin in the middle of the family and everyone danced.  At that age, the kids look so cute that they steal the show.

Next,  one of the elders was honored with a life time achievement award from a major dance festival in the area.  His family danced in remembrance of their mother and his wife, on the first year anniversary of her death.  One of the daughters announced a potluck to be held the next day to celebrate the one year anniversary of her death. 

The third family celebrated a son's catching his first walrus. The mother made sure all the family members had new matching kuspuks and the young man knelt on a skin as he and the others danced.  Traditionally, men kneel in front while the women dance behind standing.

4. The final family celebrated their youngest son's first moose. The family stood around the young man as he held the rack of a moose which was almost bigger than him. According to the father, his son is becoming a great hunter.

Traditional Native Dance

Once these finished, the best part of the night began with dancing, dancing, and more dancing.  The dancing was pretty straight forward with no one getting particularly fancy.  But on the second night, the humor broke loose.  There are three different dance groups in this town and they came together  for the celebration so other dance groups would have a chance to perform.  The great thing is even if you don't actually know the dances, you can still go up, stand in a place to follow someone in front of you or next to you.

It got really funny at one point when one of the ladies began exaggerating the movements to the point that she made everyone around her laugh.  The audience kept asking for more and about the 7th time through, two of the drummers got up. One put on a head dress and the other grabbed a scarf and both joined the women in dancing. This caused the audience to laugh even harder because the drummers are male.

The three people were so funny, that I almost couldn't dance.  At one point, the woman was moving at me and I had to jump out of the way.  It made the audience laugh more.  They appreciate funny dancing and often demand to see it again and again until everyone is tired.  The next dance celebration is in the fall but in the meantime, people will head off to other villages within a 3 to 4 hour drive over the next couple of weeks.

Winterfest celebrates the end of the winter and the beginning of spring.  It happens every year in April and brings in three to six surrounding villages.  There was one that had planned to come but didn't make it because of a death there. 

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