Friday, April 13, 2018


High School Dancers
  Winterfest is the village's spring dance celebration usually held in March or early April.  It is usually held in conjunction with the school's cultural heritage week where student spend three days making basket, Eskimo dolls, or masks in the afternoon or listening to elders and others speak of cultural beliefs on family, beliefs, or  food.  It is a way of reminding students of where they came from.

Usually the students dance on the two nights before Winterfest begins.  They usually dance on Wednesday night for their parents with their teachers in the back while the parents join in with the students on Thursday night.  I've sometimes been the parental unit for students whose parents were not there.

Unfortunately, the Superintendent decided to move Cultural Heritage week so the students did not get the chance to perform for visitors before Winterfest began on the last day of the week.

Winterfest Dancers in the School Gym
When the city decides on the date, they send out invitations to over villages, inviting them to come visit, partake of food, attend church, and share their dances through performance with everyone. 

On the day, people begin arriving by airplane or snow machines.  The villages closest just pop over while a few villages if they are farther away will fly over.  This means, that both dancers and drummers travel together.

The hall usually opens around 6:30 with the first group slated to begin at 7:00 but in reality, it doesn't actually happen until 7:30. The dancing often goes to midnight or two in the morning depending on the number of villages. Since this is three day festival, there is a set order to each night.  Our local village begins the dance the first night. The second night, they perform in the middle and the final evening, they are last, just as other dance groups rotate too.

If you came to one, you would notice that only men drum and sing.  It is not something women do.  Furthermore in this village, if they perform at the town hall, the drummers and singers are located in a small alcove with the dancers in front of them.  Men usually dance kneeling on some mats while women stand behind to dance.  Both dance with dance fans but the men's usually have a few bird feathers placed in the fans while the women's is made of woven grass with some sort of fur or hair.  I have a set with caribou hair on it. They were made by the mother of one of my coworkers' wife.

If someone does not have dance fans, they wear gloves to cover their hands.  Both males and females where Kusp'ks which is a local outfit.  The men's is short to maybe hip or upper thigh while the females wear one with a skirt that goes down to their knees.

The above photo gives you a better chance to see what the Kusp'ks look like.  The drummers and singers have their backs to the audience here.

The dancers are not professional, they just have a love of dancing and sharing.  Some are related to people here, sometimes not.  I went over Saturday night and joined in when the group from my village performed.  No one minded that I had not made any practices, they always made sure I could see someone who knew the dance so I could follow. 

One of the ministers from the next village over came to visit and attend. He brought a school teacher over to share the experience.  He summed up why its good to get up and dance "Its good to be part of the village isn't it?"  Many of the new teachers are afraid to get up, not understanding that everyone appreciates their attempts to dance.  No one is expected to be perfect but everyone is expected to have a good time.

The festival ended this past Sunday evening.  Due to only three villages visiting this time, each group got 6 dances and each group took about an hour to complete the set.  It's funny because the drummers and singers play once through the song while the dancers wander out from the audience.  I try to get in the back row but it doesn't always work out that way.  They begin singing the song and people dance and the dance the same song several times through before the dancers think its time to quit but the drummers and singers call out "Pumyo" or one more time so the dancers return to the floor and repeat it again.  At some point both parties decide they are done.

It is fun and a unique experience.  I love the dancing and the fun I have visiting with people during the festival.  I hope you enjoyed the snap shot of someone unique to here.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.

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