Thirty-Third Annual Pow Wow at Theater for the New City

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Thunderbird American Indian Dancers will hold their 33rd annual Dance Concert and Pow Wow at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, from February 8 to 17. The troupe’s appearances benefit college funds for needy Native American students. The company’s Pow-Wows have been presented annually as a two-week event by TNC since 1976, with the box office donated to these funds. There will be dances, stories and traditional music from the Iroquois and Native Peoples of the Northwest Coast, the Southwest, the Plains, and the Arctic regions. Between 25 and 30 dancers will assemble for the event.

Carlos Ponce Eagle Feathers played by Maya and a young audience member at Thunderbird American Indian Dancers Annual Dance Concert and Pow Wow at Theater for the New City.
Carlos Ponce Eagle Feathers (Maya) and a young audience member at Thunderbird American Indian Dancers’ Annual Dance Concert and Pow Wow at Theater for the New City, NYC. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Highlights of this year’s celebration will include a Hoop Dance performed by “Dancing Wolf” Michael Taylor (Choctaw/French), a Caribou Dance (from the Inuit people of Alaska), a Butterfly Dance (a Hopi custom which gives thanks for the beauty of nature), a Grass Dance and Jingle Dress Dance (from the Northern Plains people), a Stomp Dance (new this year, from the Southeastern tribes), and a Shawl Dance (from the Oklahoma tribes). Featured performers will include storyteller Muriel Miguel (Kuna/Rappahannock), the Heyna Second Son Singers (various tribes) and Matoaka Eagle (Santo Domingo/Chickahominy). In the final section of the program, the audience is invited to join in the Round Dance, a friendship dance.

After matinees, the cast will remain in the theater to personally meet the children attending and be photographed with them. This component of the show was inspired by the troupe’s school residencies. Says Louis Mofsie, the Thunderbirds’ artistic director, “Educators try to supplement the kids’ knowledge of Native Americans and to teach them about different cultures. But the emphasis is on how we used to live, in the past tense. The kids are never taught how to relate to us in the present. Now they can meet us, and be photographed with us, and its present tense. It’s more than just seeing us on stage.” He adds, “Learning about different cultures is important to enlarging the kids’ perspective, particularly in light of what’s going on in the world. We’re in trouble today because we don’t understand different cultures.”

Hoop Dancer Michael Taylor Dancing Wolf.
Hoop Dancer Michael Taylor Dancing Wolf (Choctaw/French)

A Pow-Wow is more than just a spectator event: it is a joyous reunion for native peoples nationwide and an opportunity for the non-Indian community to voyage into the philosophy and beauty of Native culture. Traditionally a gathering and sharing of events, Pow-Wows have come to include spectacular dance competitions, exhibitions, and enjoyment of traditional foods.

Pageantry is an important component of the event, and all participants are elaborately dressed. Most dances are performed in the traditional Circle, which represents a unity of peoples. There is a wealth of cultural information encoded in the movements of each dance. More than ten distinct tribes will be represented in the performance.

Throughout the performance, the troupe’s Director and Emcee Louis Mofsie (Hopi/Winnebago) explain all elements in depth through detailed introductions. An educator, Mofsie plays an important part in the show by his ability to present a comprehensive view of native culture. Native American craft items will be displayed in the TNC lobby.

Louis Mofsie (Hipi/Winnebago) is emcee of 'Thunderbird American Indian Dancers' Annual Dance Concert and Pow Wow at Theater for the New City, NYC. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
Louis Mofsie (Hipi/Winnebago) is emcee of ‘Thunderbird American Indian Dancers’ Annual Dance Concert and Pow Wow at Theater for the New City, NYC. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers are the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York. The troupe was founded in 1963 by a group of ten Native American men and women, all New Yorkers, who were descended from Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and San Blas tribes. Some were in school at the time; all were “first generation,” meaning that their parents had been born on reservations. They founded the troupe to keep alive the traditions, songs and dances they had learned from their parents, and added to their repertoire from other Native Americans living in New York and some who were passing through. Within three or four years, they were traveling throughout the continental U.S., expanding and sharing their repertoire and gleaning new dances on the reservations. (A number of Thunderbird members are winners of Fancy Dance contests held on reservations, where the standard of competition is unmistakably high.) Members of the Thunderbirds range in professions from teachers to hospital patient advocates, tree surgeons and computer engineers.

The Thunderbird-TNC collaboration began in 1975, when Crystal Field directed a play called “The Only Good Indian.” For research, Ms. Field lived on a Hopi reservation for three weeks. In preparation for the project, she met Louis Mofsie, and they made plans for a Pow Wow to celebrate the Winter Solstice. The event has continued annually to this day.

The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers Scholarship Fund receives its sole support from events like this concert (it receives no government or corporate contributions), and has bestowed over 350 scholarships to-date.

Performances are February 8 to 17, Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:00 pm at Theater for the New City, at 155 First Avenue (at Tenth Street). Tickets are $10 general admission to all evening shows, whose running time is two hours. Matinees are kid’s days: at all 2:00 pm performances, children under twelve accompanied by a ticket-bearing adult are admitted for $1.00 (adults $10). Running time is 1:30. The box office/ audience info number is (212) 254-1109. Online ticketing is available at www.theaterforthenewcity.net.

Jonathan Slaff is a New York publicist in the specialty of international cultural events. Jonathan and his writers keep us ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.