I’m particularly excited about the upcoming Free First Saturday, highlighting Larry Yazzie and his son Jessup, who will be performing the fast and colorful Fancy Dance on Saturday, January 3rd. The theme of the day “Styled by Saarinen” is inspired by the exhibition Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future (closing January 4th) and the design innovations of this legendary architect. If you’re wondering what connection the Native American Fancy Dance has to Saarinen and architecture, unfortunately there aren’t any that I know of (except for maybe the stamina and hard work both require). But, there is one important parallel between the Yazzie and Saarinen families-each produced a creative father-son duo, (Eero is the son of architect Eliel Saarinen, well-known for designing the Cranbrook Educational Community in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan). Like Larry and Jessup, who perform together whenever possible, Eero and Eliel collaborated on a number of important commissions as co-architects, the last completed project by Saarinen and Saarinen was Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood. So, it’s in the spirit of teamwork and raising creative kids, that we kick-off 2009.
Thanks, Larry for answering some of my questions about the Fancy Dance. You can watch the Yazzies’ performance “Sharing the Gift” at 11 am and 1 pm in the Walker Cinema.
Can you explain the Fancy Dance and its origins?
The Oklahoma Feather Dance or “Fancy Dance” is one of the most popular styles of dance seen at modern powwows. It originated as the Fancy War Dance by the Hethuska society in Oklahoma and was invented by Gus McDonald, the first World Champion Fancy War Dancer.
Who dances the Fancy Dance, and are there certain occasions when the Fancy Dance is performed?
Mostly young men and boys. Fancy Dance is usually the highlight at powwows and special events because of the energy and colorful regalia.
How long have you been dancing?
I’ve been dancing for most of my life since the age of 5.
You learned the Fancy Dance from your grandmother and grandfather, and have passed the tradition on to your 10-year-old son, Jessup. Was he a quick study?
Jessup began dancing since he could walk at the tender age of two. Jessup has already developed his own technique and style.
How often do you two dance together?
We dance together whenever possible at powwows and special events.
You were named World Champion for the Northern Style Fancy Dance in 1995, and Jessup has won junior division competitions at powwows across the United States and Canada. Can you describe the level of training and amount of practice that goes into preparing for a powwow?
It requires endurance and stamina to perform the Fancy Dance and takes a lot of training and running. It’s like preparing for a marathon. I also won the world championship in 2007.
One of the most striking things about your performances (in addition to the dance itself) is the elaborate clothing you wear. Do the colors and style of dress have any symbolic meaning?
The regalia reflects my life and tribal identity-the Meskwaki people of central Iowa.
You’re taking a brief break from a national and international tour with the Native Pride Dancers, which will pick up again in the New Year. What are some of the special places you have traveled to, any tour highlights?
Within the last several years I have been invited to Australia, Ireland, Japan twice, Brazil and numerous cities across the U.S.
What motivates you to continue dancing?
Dancing allows me to be creative and keeps me in top shape especially for my age. It challenges me to improve as a competitor.
Do you and your son Jessup share any other creative outlets?
We enjoy sharing our culture through song & dance by teaching our dance to other children.
What do you want young audiences to take away from your performances at Free First Saturday?
To show what our elders have passed down to us and to be proud of who we are as Native Peoples, and to let the young audience know the Native Americans are the Indigenous people of North America.