NB youth dance their way to Native American powwows

(Left) Joe Thompson, Mikel Thompson and Ethan Viet dress in regalia clothing that represents Native American apparel when they perform their dances.

(Left) Joe Thompson, Mikel Thompson and Ethan Viet dress in regalia clothing that represents Native American apparel when they perform their dances.

— Three New Bloomfield teens have chosen to dance to the beat of a different drum — a Native American one.

Ethan Viet and Joe and Mikel Thompson all participate in Native American-style powwow dancing around the state. They are a part of Venturing, which is a youth development program within the Boy Scouts of America for young men and women who are ages 13 to 21. Their local club, Venture Crew 3428, focuses on powwow dancing and includes members from Mexico, Columbia, Jefferson City and California.

All three teens attend New Bloomfield High School and perform their special dances for area cub scouts, in powwow circuits around the state, and for other various events. The boys said February through April is their busiest time for performances. When they dance, they wear “regalia” clothing that reflects Native American apparel with beadwork, ribbons and feathers. Joe says the costumes are always changing.

“A good dancer will add something new to his outfit every year,” he explains.

Joe, 18 and a junior, is what’s called a fancy dancer. There are different styles of powwow dancing, and Joe said he’s chosen one of the “flashiest” and “fastest” styles. He and his brother, Mikel, are part Cherokee. Joe said their grandfather got them interested in their heritage long before they started with Venturing.

“It’s pretty much a way of life for me,” Joe said.

Mikel adds that it’s also a way to learn about the Native American culture, make friends, meet new people and “have fun.” Mikel, 16 and a sophomore, is a grass dancer, a style he said originated on the prairies.

Ethan, a 15-year-old freshman, chose traditional dance.

“When you’re dancing, you’re trying to tell a story,” Ethan said.

A buffalo dance and a spear and shield dance are two of the stories he tells when performing. Ethan said there are three main reasons he dances — to celebrate life, honor those who have come before and honor those yet to come.

“I know a lot more than when I started about Native American culture,” Ethan shares.

Joe and Mickel agree and add that they now have a greater sense of respect for the culture as well. Joe said in his experience most people’s first instinct when they hear about Native American dancing is to laugh and make fun of it, because they don’t understand. Other times people simply are unaware of what it is they do.

“When I say I’m going to a powwow,” Joe says, “half the time they say ‘What’s that?’”

He then explains it to them, telling how the gathering is similar to a family reunion. Mikel said Native Americans congregate at powwows to share stories and enjoy their culture and heritage.

“The pagentry of Native American powwows is very interesting to watch, the customs and traditions,” said Carl Mahoney, Venture Crew 3428 advisor.

Mahoney, a dancer himself when he was younger, started up the group of young dancers about six years ago when his son, Patrick, decided he wanted to perform. He said the Native American dances are “beautiful, colorful and exciting” and the members’ various audiences give them good feedback.

“Everybody enjoys it,” Mahoney said. “The kids do a really good job of putting on the programs.”

Ethan said the Venture Crew members learn how to dance from their advisors, watching others, research and YouTube.

“YouTube is really resourceful,” Ethan said with a laugh.

“We try to keep it as close to Native American dancing as we can,” Mickel said.

The music they perform to includes much drumming and other Native American influences. The boys said they usually purchase CDs at powwows from musicians who perform there.

Even though the teens will age out of the program once they’re 21, they can still participate in powwows on their own or as Venturing advisors. Joe said many Native Americans dance from the time they are “knee high to a jack rabbit until they’re ready to fall over.”

“I’ll still be doing powwows for as long as I live,” he said.

Mahoney said any young man or woman 14 years old or older who is interested in joining the crew can contact him at (573) 680-7901.

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