Music and dance are intricately interwoven into the story of the American Indian. Tribal histories are told and retold through vocalization and the percussive heartbeat of the drum. Dancers in regalia evoke traditions and ceremonies rooted deep in the past.
In a rare offering in the Golden Triangle, the Columbus Arts Council and Mississippi Humanities Council present “Powwow Journeys,” a journey through American Indian song and dance, by members of the Red Feather Dance Co., based in Mesa, Ariz.
The free program begins at 7 p.m. Friday in Rent Auditorium on the campus of Mississippi University for Women.
The presentation is part of special programming planned around the Smithsonian Institution exhibit New Harmonies: Celebrating American Roots Music, on display through Saturday at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St., Columbus.
“We’re so glad to welcome the Red Feather Dance Co. to North Mississippi,” said Tina Sweeten, executive director of the arts council. “This will be unlike any program we’ve offered before. And it’s thanks to the Mississippi Humanities Council that it is free to the public.”
Petur Redbird, cultural director of the dance company, hopes every audience member will gain a better understanding of American Indian culture through Powwow Journeys, with its unique performances created to showcase different dance styles and songs indigenous to Native American nations.
From some of the oldest styles, such as Men’s Traditional — where the dancer enacts a battle or hunting story — to the almost frenetic Men’s Fancy Dance, rife with fast, spinning moves and extravagant regalia, each dance is distinct.
In the more sedate Women’s Traditional, the dancer keeps her long shoulder fringe swaying in perfect time to the drum.
Other dances featured include the Women’s Fancy Shawl and the specialty Hoop Dance, where the skilled dancer creates nature-inspired designs by interlacing individual hoops.
Cast members will also perform powwow songs on drum and flutes.
“We’re looking forward to this visually stunning and educational experience,” said Beverly Norris, the arts council’s coordinator for the New Harmonies exhibit. “American Indian song and dance are very much a part of this country’s musical history, just as sacred songs brought by settlers from Europe and the earliest blues are.”
Redbird stated. “Most people do not know anything about our rich and vibrant living history,” he stated. “Yet, American Indians have given the world more than 90 percent of the vegetables people eat today, thousands of medicinal plants, the basic foundation of the type of government we have today, and were especially instrumental in World War I and World War II with the American Indian Code Talkers, whose codes were never broken.”
Red Feather cast members travel worldwide presenting cultural programs.
The public is also invited to a closing ceremony for the New Harmonies exhibit at the arts center Saturday, Dec. 10, from 2-4 p.m. Young area musicians will perform. For more information, contact the arts council at 662-328-2787, or visit columbus-arts.org.
New Harmonies is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Mississippi Humanities Council.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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