Sitting in the gym one night this past week, one of the basketball players lifted a drum from the wall and started playing it. He shared with me that he knew how to sing, dance and drum. He told me had learned all this when he was five. “Tonight,” he said, “we are practicing at the multi. You can come.”
I tugged at Chad’s sweater sleeve. “Tonight we should go watch them dance.” He said he didn’t know if we could do that. The basketball player said, “You’re invited.”
So at nine o’clock, in the light of Alaskan night, we bundled up and walked to the multi. We were greeted by several people and found our seats off to the side.
A bit later, drums and singing began and dancers made their way to the floor.
And they were the Yup’ik. They were absolutely everything we have seen so far. They were the tundra grass that waves with wind. They were the waves that move gently in the bay, the movement of fish below the water and the wings of seabirds that glide overhead. They were the streams that connect all the ponds of water across the tundra. They were energy and they were time. They danced with quiet grace and they dance with fervor. They danced with reverence and they danced with playful humor. I’m not kidding. There was one particular dance that had me laughing the whole time from start to end!
We stayed for some time and when we left, our hearts were full. My favorites were when the three boys sang together their voices in unison but taking turns to rise or fall. Or maybe when one of the small children stood in the line and raised his arms to sway. Or maybe the laughing way one of the younger boys took on every single dance with his entire soul. Walking home felt very much like leaving church. Not the hell and damnation kind of church, the God is Love kind. The kind where you are refreshed and want for more. Every single person was real. And they danced.
*photo is not mine. You can find out more about Yup’ik dancers at Toksook Bay here: http://archive.kyuk.org/toksook-bay-teen-creates-popular-videos-singing-in-his-traditional-language/