Heritage dance classes open to community

Southern Ute Cultural Night Dance Class instructor, Samantha Maez dances alongside her daughter Consuela “Cella” Phillips. Dance class was held in the SunUte Community Center gym on Wednesday, Oct. 6.
Southern Ute Cultural Preservation Events and Heritage Coordinator, Marvin Pinnecoose teaches a young group of fancy dancers basic steps and moves on Wednesday, Oct. 6 in the SunUte Community Center during the Cultural Night Dance Class.
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum
McKayla Lee | The Southern Ute Drum

The Southern Ute Cultural Preservation Department’s Heritage and Events Coordinator, Marvin Pinnecoose is hoping to revitalize powwow dancing, while also promoting the importance of traditional dance.  

“To me, dancing was an alternative to sports because sometimes with sports you’re not tall enough or you don’t fit their standards to participate — with dancing no one is ever going to deny you that right,” Pinnecoose stated.  

Dancing has always been an important part of Ute culture, from traditional cultural dances to more competitive powwow dancing in modern times. Dancing is not only a means for tribal members to gather, but it also provides a space to celebrate life and family.  

“It’s important to teach our youth the importance of these dances because these dances are becoming a part of their indigenous identity and not only does it give them a good clean outlet, but it also encourages exercise and mental clarity,” Volunteer Dance Class Instructor, Samantha Maez stated. “Dancing also helps with confidence, building self-esteem and so much more; these are all very important and need to be nurtured in our youth.” 

Powwow dancing is practiced at large social events in communities, often accompanied by singing, and is intended to showcase the diverse cultures across Indian Country. Powwows are broken down into different dance categories and depending on the geographical locations feature different performances. Men’s dances are typically categorized by chicken, grass, straight, fancy, and traditional styles, while women’s categories are regarded as buckskin, cloth, jingle and fancy shawl.  

Powwow dancing is more than sporadic rhythmic movement; it is making a spiritual and expressive connection to tell a story and provide healing. This sense of belonging happens through the shared environment with other Indigenous peoples and a powerful understanding of community and connection.  

“Our kids here in the community have a chance to experience dancing for the first time and they just need someone there to help wake up that talent inside of them,” Pinnecoose stated. “I want everyone who comes to class to feel like they’re taking something positive away from it—like they’re walking away with more than they did before they came.” 

The first dance class was held on Wednesday, Sept. 1 and will continue to be offered for an indefinite amount of time. Every Wednesday night there will be a Native American dance class at the Southern Ute Multi-Purpose Facility or the SunUte Community Center, keeping the classes local are a top priority for the Cultural Preservation Department. On average there are usually 14-18 dancers in attendance, with even more parents, friends, and community members supporting from the sideline.  

“I want to give the participants as many divisions to split up into as we can, we’re currently looking for volunteer instructors to come and help us teach,” Pinnecoose explained. “I think by adding more divisions it will help keep everyone interested and continue to provide a good turnout like we have had the past few weeks.”  

The community is encouraged to come to the Wednesday Night Dance Classes and know that regalia is not a requirement for class. Shawls and other traditional regalia are available to borrow for those interested in learning or dancing.  

“Our culture and traditions should be one of our youths’ top priorities — and remember, these classes are not only for our youth, but for everyone. Don’t be shy, even if you forgot or were never taught, it’s never too late to pick it up and start dancing,” Maez said. “I encourage everyone, young to old, no matter what your background to come and participate, even if it’s only one class.” 

For more information about classes or instructing reach out to Marvin Pinecoose via email at  mpinecoose@southernute-nsn.gov  

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