Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Navajo Nation Fair: Song and Dance

A Navajo woman dresses herself starting from her feet and working upward to her head, the way corn grows, from the soil to the sun. I keep this in mind as I wrap the buckskin moccasins around my ankles, smoothing out the folds and tying the ends midway up my calf. Then the bracelets and rings, right arm first and then the left. Then the necklaces and turquoise earrings. Nanabah, the junior youth coordinator, fixes my hair in an imitation bun, since my hair is not long enough to be tied in a true traditional bun (called a tsiyeel). After at least thirty minutes of getting dressed, we are finally ready to leave for the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, where fellow volunteer James Foguth and I will dance in the annual song and dance competition.

The Navajo song and dance has its origin in the Enemy Way ceremony, a type of healing ceremony for Navajos returning from war. The dances are of two kinds, two-step and skip step, and require a partner. Typical female wear for such dances includes a long skirt and top, lots of jewelry, a sash and a concho belt. In participating in these dances, I learned a great deal about the importance of jewelry in Navajo culture. Often times the jewelry pieces are heirlooms passed down through generations. The squash blossom necklaces and turquoise-studded wrist cuffs have a memory accumulated through years of being worn in sacred ceremonies and dances. Thus when one dances, blessings and prayers are added to the memory of the objects being worn.

At first, the dancing was easy and the hours of practice spent in the previous week started to pay off. But the event spans over two days, and after an hour I began to feel the ache in my legs. Then I remembered something my flute teacher, Robert Talltree, had told me during a flute lesson. Sometimes when one is playing the flute for long periods of time it’s easy to get tired and lose the original energy which a song started out with. And sometimes that energy is regained in a second burst, like a horse receiving its second wind during a race. I thought of this as I danced, and thought this could be true of physical activity as well. I prayed, and thought of all the community effort which made it possible for James and I to even be participating in this event, and then I thought of all the Baha’is around the world engaging in community building processes just like the Native American Baha’i Institute. These were thoughts that gave me a second wind as I danced.

Forty-six pairs participated in the song and dance event, dressed in their best traditional outfits, from velveteen skirts to shirts trimmed with jewelry and silver buttons. We danced for at least 12 hours (with breaks every eight songs or so). The experience was reward enough for me, but you probably want to know how we placed: James took first place in the youth category for male best dressed and we both went home with first place for two-step in the youth category.

The greatest lesson learned from this experience was a community’s ability to band together and turn an idea into a reality. It began with an idea from Alice Bathke, who mentioned the fair on the car ride home from a children’s class in Fort Defiance. James started talking about the song and dance events and pretty soon we were buying fabric for our outfits and asking Charlotte Kahn to sew the outfits. Alice lent me her wrap-around moccasins* and jewelry, Nanabah lent me her jewelry and hair-dressing skills, and Rosemary, the cook for Thursday night community dinner, lent me her jewelry. Jon Fransisco, a local Baha’i, taught James and I the two-step and skip step on Thursday nights after community dinner. The community took two youth who had never participated in a song and dance before and nurtured them in a short amount of time (literally two weeks) until they had reached a new level of capacity, which involved dancing in a fair event. Now imagine the potential this Houck community has in spiritually transforming not only itself but the areas which surround it. When all work in unity for a common goal, the possibilities are limitless.

At one point during the two-step I looked up to the sky and was fascinated by the storm clouds progressing our way. In that moment my soul was an eagle longing to soar high in those clouds, and this physical body a mere limitation. All the confirmations of service descended upon me and I felt like there was no dream I couldn’t make come true. If there are any young people, especially female, out there reading this blog there is one thing I want them to take from this blog: if there is an adventure you have been dreaming to have, there is nothing but yourself to stop you from making it into reality. You have your prayers, the world community, and your own volition which, when combined, are an invincible force aiding you to make things happen. All doors are opportunities. Some may be shut, even slammed in your face, but with perseverance and reliance upon the Creator, you will find confirmations which surpass your wildest dreams.

*The style of wrap around moccasins has its origin in the historical Long Walk from Canyon de Chelley to Bosque Redondo. The moccasins consist of buckskin moccasin (usually red-brown) and white buckskin straps that wrap around up the calf, in some cases to the knee. They were designed to protect women from thorns and snake bites during the Long Walk.

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