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Dance troupe shares spirit, beauty of indigenous people

Yazzie plays a haunting song on a wooden Native American flute. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)1 / 3
Emulating the flight of an eagle, Larry Yazzie performs a traditional Native American dance for a captivated audience Tuesday. About 200 people attended the show at Armory Square. Native Pride Dancers’ mission is to educate, inspire, motivate and empower diverse communities to bridge cultural gaps through indigenous traditions. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)2 / 3
Selena Jourdain, 15, demonstrates the Jingle Dance, also known as the Healing Dance. It originated with the Ojibwe in the Great Lakes region. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)3 / 3

Armory Square's floor reverberated to the lively, expert footsteps of Larry Yazzie as he danced traditional Native American styles.

Adorned with vibrant ribbons, feathers and beads, the two-time World Champion fancy dancer enchanted the crowd.

"I'm so proud of who we are. I'm so proud that we are here on this beautiful evening," Yazzie said. "What we are going to share is sacred to our hearts."

The Park Rapids Area Library offered free tickets to Tuesday's show. There was "an outpouring of interest," said Branch Manager Jodi Schultz. She received numerous calls all day as locals clamored for any remaining tickets.

Approximately 200 people filled Armory Square to watch and learn from the internationally renowned dancer, lecturer and educator.

Yazzie is founder and artistic director of Native Pride Arts. Formed in 2003, the organization strives to educate and entertain audiences of all ages about the beauty, skill and majesty of American Indian music and dance.

A member of the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa/Meskwaki, Yazzie has been dancing since the age of 7. His repertoire includes performances at the Olympics, The Kennedy Center and the Smithsonian Institute.

Yazzie also takes his high-energy, colorful shows around the world. The St. Paul-based troupe most recently traveled to Kyrgyzstan, the Minnesota State Fair, Indonesia, the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and throughout the Kitchigami Regional Library System.

"We value every culture, but when we can come back to our people, it gives us such an honor," said Christal Moose, Native Pride Dancers manager and member of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe.

Selena Jourdain, a 15-year-old dancer from Red Lake, shared a jingle dance. Her colorful dress was covered in rolled-up, snuff can lids attached with brightly colored ribbons. Yazzie explained that the jingle dance is said to have healing power. According to legend, the jingle dress helped a medicine man's sickly daughter to walk again.

"Each time we dance, we dance with prayer and medicine," Yazzie told the Park Rapids audience.

Jourdain has been dancing "since I could walk," she said. In 2013, she appeared in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. She is also a member of Native Pride Dancers.

Yazzie dedicated his performance, the Eagle Dance, to military veterans.

"They say eagle carries our prayers the highest," he explained. "As I dance, I will tell you the story of this eagle I see flying, lifting my spirits, carrying my thoughts."

His regalia included tail feathers from an immature eagle. Eagle feathers are passed from generation to generation, he explained, adding that eagles are a protected species and only Native people may have them in their possession. Porcupine hair bedecked his headdress.

Yazzie then invited volunteers to join a pow wow universal dance, or Round Dance. He taught basic steps. It was a social dance, moving clockwise.

"By dancing, we bridge cultures," he said.

Schultz said Native Pride Dancers "loved, loved the set up at the Armory," particularly the circular floor. In Native American culture, a circle holds significance. Yazzie also told Schultz the stage allowed a "more intimate and interactive" show.

"I have to say we've had some wonderful programs, but this is one of my favorite," Schultz said. "I just think it's so important. We are living with a Native people right here."

Tuesday's program was supported by state Legacy funds.

"I think we definitely hit a sweet spot with this one and I hope we can do more like it," she said.

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