Traditional Dance Featured at Denali Music Festival

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Date: July 7, 2015
Contact: Kathleen Kelly, (907) 683-9504

The Nenana Native Dancers will perform at the fourth annual Denali Music Festival on Saturday, July 18 in Denali National Park and Preserve.

This will be the first appearance at the festival by the traditional dancers and drummers. The performance will begin at 5 p.m. at the Denali Visitor Center, located at mile 1.5 on the Denali Park Road.

Victor Lord, Second Chief for the Nenana Native Council, will provide cultural context for each of as many as seven songs.

Dance is an important aspect of Athabaskan culture; it is often the focal point of a potlatch, particularly after the meal. While as many as seven local villages once took part in local gatherings, the current dance group draws from the villages of Nenana, Kantishna, Chena, and Minto.

The group of 16 and 17 year olds has rehearsed together about twice a week for the past 18 months. Their activities are supported largely by a grant from the National Johnson-O’Malley Association. Tim McManus, who began to learn traditional dance himself at age eight or nine, teaches and leads the group.

As part of ongoing “Find Your Park” community outreach goals intended especially for Alaska youth, National Park Service (NPS) staff will host a short trip and private picnic for the dancers in the afternoon.

McManus said one of the songs the group plans to perform is about the first trading post in Nenana; it is a local song from 1902. Others songs describe a trapline, anticipation of good times at village gatherings and a warning about alcohol from elders to children. Yet another song, based on the 1950’s dance craze, “The Twist,” explores a time when Athabaskan children were sent away to boarding schools.

The park has hosted the Denali Music Festival since 2012 in association with the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. Five events are scheduled for July 18 near the park entrance area; another 14 events are scheduled throughout the community July 11-25.

Other park-based events include: presentations about World Listening Day and recordings of natural sounds; an afternoon concert and performance workshop with hands-on kid-sized instruments; and an evening performance by the Denali Chamber Orchestra featuring pieces by participants in Alaska Geographic's field camp seminar, “Composing in the Wilderness.”

Last updated: August 11, 2015

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