Larry Yazzie performs American Indian dances

Ashlee Clark

As Larry Yazzie nodded his head to the beat of the drum group Midnight Express, eagle feathers jerked back and forth on the rocker of his traditional headdress.

The native pride dancer stomped his moccasin-covered feet to the American Indian rhythm. The bells that were wrapped around his calves jingled with the music.

In a flurry of feathers and flagging tape extending from bustles on his back, Yazzie spun and hopped across the floor as the tempo of the beats intensified.

Yazzie’s energized performance Tuesday night at Gordon Wilson Hall was part of a celebration of Kentucky Native American Heritage Month.

“Believe it or not, that was just a warmup,” Yazzie said after his first dance.

The program was sponsored by the American Indian/First Nations Studies Association, with support from the Office of Diversity Programs, the department of theater and dance, Potter College and the anthropology program.

Yazzie, a Meskwaki/Din? fancy dancer from Tama, Iowa, said he uses his performances to show that American Indians are “still here, alive, well and strong, and that we’ll still be here tomorrow.”

Erik Gooding, faculty adviser for AIFNS, said he first saw Yazzie perform in the early 1980s at a powwow competition in Des Moines, Iowa.

Before Yazzie danced, Gooding and students in his classes gathered around a drum to sing the Lakota flag song, an anthem for the American Indian tribe.

Henderson senior Amber Douthit, who participated in the flag song, said the performance helped her learn more about American Indians.

“I think it’s an unseen part of their culture and it means so much to them,” Douthit said.

Yazzie’s first dance represented various animals that are important to American Indian culture and the human spirit. His ceremonial eagle dance emulated the animals American Indians believe “fly closest to God,” Yazzie said.

Between dances, Yazzie answered questions about his elaborate costume.

The intricate red, orange, yellow and green beadwork across his chest represented the sun, which Yazzie said is considered “the life giver” in American Indian culture.

Yazzie provided explanations for the neon colors used in his costume, which his family made.

“To us, the spirit is very bright,” he said.

Yazzie also shared some of the history of the fancy dance, a style that originated in the early 1900s in Oklahoma.

“It allows me to express myself,” Yazzie said.

Yazzie, who began fancy dancing when he was 7, has competed in about 20 powwow competitions a year and has performed for audiences around the country.

Yazzie said the spirit of the dance and his connection with the drums inspire him to keep performing.

“It’s a spiritual magic that I’ve enjoyed since day one,” he said.

Reach Ashlee Clark at [email protected].