Labor Day weekend is a calling. It calls the Ute people together for one last Bear Dance before putting the bear away for the winter. It concludes the fifth and final Bear Dance of the year. White Mesa, UT hosts the last Bear Dance and every year it impresses me with both the collaboration of Ute people and the significance of the individual.
In terms of the individual, one should never underestimate the power of participation. It takes courage to walk into the corral and wonder how many times you are going to dance or how many songs you will get to sing. That courage starts by getting dressed and having the intent to dance or sing. For those who can dance, perhaps it is our duty to do so. Early in life, we are flooded with the opportunity to choose to do things, such as dance. As we grow older, sometimes situations arise in which our body dictates that dancing just physically is not possible anymore. The need to participate is just as strong with any individuals who have a heart in dancing, but at face value, we see the dancers. So as dancers and singers, when we have the opportunity to do so, it is always impactful to make that statement for ourselves, for those who cannot, and for our tribe. The more people that choose to do so (and earlier is always preferred), the better the turnout.
In terms of the collaboration of Ute people, it takes many people to put together a Bear Dance and four days of Bear Dancing should seem like a long time. We tend to partner our Bear Dances with powwows to bring in people, heighten participation, and elevate the celebration. One possible result could be that we have 2 days of “warming up” while our powwows go on and 2 days of true Bear Dance focus. Sunday and Monday seem to be where the turnout is and when we get full lines going in the corral. In our “warm-up” period and slower times, this is where I have found inspiration in the collaboration of Ute people.
This is where you will find the single singer who comes from Ft. Duchesne, Randlett, White Mesa, Towaoc, or Ignacio. This is where you find the families who follow Bear Dance and sometimes are the only individuals out there on a Friday or Saturday afternoon. These individuals are crucial in making sure that the songs continue, even when there are no dancers in the corral. They keep the songs going and rotate with other solo singers as the event in whole, seems to wait for Sunday and Monday. The true beauty is when they sit down together and sing songs as one Ute tribe. Here is where I have found utmost respect for other singers who I call “brother” in the Bear Dance corral. Here is where stories are told and songs are passed from tribe to tribe. My influences in respect to these situations are Austin Jacket, Eric Wells, Jack Cantsee, Gilbert Dutchie, Boyd Lopez, Terry Knight, Lloyd Arrive, Skyler Lomahaftewa, and the man they call Bubbly.
Dancers are equally important and every single person who takes the initiative to dance makes the entire event stronger. There are versions of the dedicated Bear Dancer that stem from each tribe. I encourage any person, with the ability to dance, to do so when needed most. Dancing when there is no line, or when selections are rare, is tough thing to do. My applause goes to anyone who can take on that challenge. Believe me; the singers appreciate every dancer that can help out.
This year, White Mesa had a good turnout for participation and it was good to see many Southern Utes in attendance. As always, singing with my cousins from Ignacio was a highlight of my weekend, but equally important is to help out any other singers in need of an extra voice at the growler. The last song of the Bear Dance season saw many Southern Ute dancers hustling out the 46 minutes to the end. The idea of putting the bear back to sleep and getting ready for winter is now upon us. I will rest this winter knowing that our tribe represented well in White Mesa and helped our sister tribe. My hope next year is to see even more participants leap at the opportunity to come out for the first time into the corral, or simply return to it. Randlett Bear Dance will be here before you know it. We all have months to prepare, but time does fly, so let’s start thinking about it soon. Our family looks forward to seeing you on the bear dance trail next year. Thanks for a wonderful 2016.