Native Pride Dancers Journey Is Just Beginning
For Native Pride Dancers, a Minnesota-based group formed in 2003 by World Champion Fancy Dancer Larry Yazzie, the journey through song and dance is just about to cross borders as they travel the distance to express themselves.
It is perhaps due to Yazzie, 45, the visionary, that keeps the troupe known for its high-energy, colorful shows that blend modern and traditional Native American dance, always moving forward.
“My vision has always been to perform overseas. There are lots of potential to branch out to different parts of the country too,” said Yazzie. “My dream is to reach higher, to collaborate with other artists outside of our Native culture like hip hop and rock.”
International travel is something they have done. They have done shows in Europe and the Middle East for years. Yazzie said that after a recent performance in Jordan, some inquiries have been made for them to come to Egypt and Israel.
Here at home, the troupe’s credits include dancing at the Atlanta Summer Olympics, the Kennedy Center, Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, NBA halftime events, and festivals and pow wows throughout the U.S.
Yazzie’s younger brother, Arlan Whitebreast, 40, a grass dancer, who has been with the group for eight years, has not gone on international tours yet but thinks along the same line as Yazzie when it comes to the direction the troupe is heading.
“I think we are on the tip of an iceberg. We have not yet fully developed to what we can be. Personally, I want to see more big venues, theaters and overseas shows,” he said.
Last year, in September, Whitebreast said they did something unlike their regular pow wow shows and theatrical stage performances. The troupe collaborated with Grammy Award winner Joanne Shenandoah, Oneida Nation, on a music video.
“There is a lot of potential for that,” Whitebreast said, referring to dancing for the Native singer in the video.
Whitebreast and Yazzie and another brother—not involved with Native Pride Dancers—grew up in Tama, Iowa and raised in the traditions of Meskwaki/Diné culture by their mother and stepfather.
Their stepfather, a fancy dancer who taught the boys to dance, passed away two years ago. Aside from Whitebreast, Yazzie has called on his son Jessup, 13, and Samarra, 6, and aunt, Dana Davenporte, to perform with them.
The core group is composed of eight members, including the family members. Depending on the venue and the event, they can travel with a larger group of 15 or more.
They dance a variety, such as, fancy, hoop, chicken, grass, men’s northern traditional, womens’ fancy shawl , womens’ jingle and womens’ traditional.
Jessup is a boys’ northern style fancy dancer. He has been dancing since he was two years old when he won his first trophy in Roseau, Canada. When he was three, he won another one at the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
I enjoy helping other people feel good through my dance and inspiring other kids to be open minded and learn about other cultures,” he said.
Yazzie said another young member of the family is following their steps. “My little granddaughter, Sade Kapayou, danced with us last summer at a production at the Meskwaki Convention Center in Tama, Iowa.”
“Our group is inspirational, majestic, beautiful, entertaining, interactive, and funny. Our dancers are champion dancers and we’ve also taken young dancers in and assisted in developing them to move forward with their dancing,” said Yazzie.
“A big part of our program are the stories behind the dancing, about us and who we are as Natives,” said Whitebreast.
“We make it really personal. We just don’t go up and dance. We break it down; we inform and educate you,” he said. “Dancing is one aspect. It is important to be able to reach out, to inspire you to do something good in your life.”
Meanwhile, Yazzie, the Native Pride Dancers founder, is already reaching out. Aside from being an actor, a desire to collaborate with other artists, he also wants get into flute music recording. When he says that the troupe’s fan base better take note.
His brother said it best: “What we do is a small piece of who we are and what we could be.”