Native American dancers share skills, culture

By Angela Hernandez


Danza Azteca de Yanaguana conducted a Day of Native American Dance workshop at the University of the Incarnate Word in honor of Native American Heritage Month.

Ray Ríos, head of Danza Azteca de Yanaguana, offered to come perform and talk with students. This would be the third time the Danza group has held an event at UIW, said Dr. Sally Said, a longtime professor of modern languages. She said the Danza tribe has had a longstanding relationship with the university and the Headwaters Coalition, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word.

“This group performed outdoors on campus Nov. 27, 2007, and held a dance practice open to the public Aug. 2, 2009 in Marian Hall Ballroom,” Said said. “They often come to the Blue Hole, headwaters of the San Antonio River, to conduct prayer services, as they consider the spring and its water sacred.”

For this year’s event, the Danza group incorporated more cultural materials, which aided in starting discussions about Native American culture as well as more community involvement.

“This time around, there’s less dancing than on the two previous occasions, but it left more time for interaction among attendees and the Danza group,” Said said. “Also, a group of students, community members and employees who play the Peruvian flute stopped by and joined the group in playing indigenous music.”

Representatives of the different tribes attended the event, where they talked about the materials they had on display, and specifically spoke about the cultures of their particular tribes.

“A discussion was opened with questions posed for comment by anyone present,” Said said. “Something new was that the Danza members held drumming sessions and taught dance steps that went along with the drumming rhythm.”

The event was meant to demonstrate Native American dance and display an array of cultural artifacts.

“Clothing, jewelry, hunting implements, and ceremonial objects were brought to show complexity of different Native American tribal traditions – including Coahuiltecan, Apache, Comanche, Mohawk, and Cherokee,” Said said. “The displays, performances, and discussions were excellent.”

Although there are people on campus and in San Antonio with Native American ancestry, it is important to showcase it more often, Said pointed out.

“We have Native American students, yet no place where their cultures are recognized. In our society, indigenous people are often invisible. Some people believe they died out or were completely assimilated in the last century. This is not so, and the Danza group is just one of many active Native American identity groups in San Antonio.”

With more help from Native American students and students interested in Native American culture, more events with a spotlight on these tribes would be possible.

“I think that if Native American students had been involved in the planning of the event, they could have gotten the word out to other students and attendance would have been better,” said Said.

The spring season would be idle for the next visit the Danza tribe could make.

“Some students asked if the Danza Azteca de Yanaguana could come back in the spring and perform outdoors rather than inside, both as a way to interest other Native American students in perhaps forming a student group, as well as a vehicle for informing non-Native American students about Native American culture.”

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