I caught up with Larry Yazzie the founder of the successful dance troupe – Native Pride Dancers. Yazzie was in Albuquerque, New Mexico as part of the head staff at the Gathering of Nations pow-wow held in April every year.
Yazzie started dancing at the tender young age of 7 years old, and now he is 49 years old. He learned how to dance by observing. He dances northern style fancy dance. “There are two types of Fancy Dance – Northern and Southern. In todays pow wow world it is hard to distinguish the difference between the two styles. Back in the 70’s you would be able to see the difference between the two styles,” explained Yazzie.
He recalls back in his home community there was a couple of well established champion dancers that he looked up too. They did their own feather work, which he really respected. “They had their own style of dance and they made their own feather work, had their own style of outfit making which was very interesting to see.”
When Yazzie attends a pow-wow his outfit stands out from the rest, and you can pick him out immediately in the pow-wow arena. Yazzie said that he orders his outfit from different outfit makers for his bustles, but he designs his own outfit. “I did work hard on style to be different and not only with my dancing style but with my outfit as well. I like to keep it kind of old school and clean, compared to being busy,” said Yazzie adding,” I like to use original and cultural material such as horse hair. And I like to flash up my outfit with bright colour ribbon. I don’t go overboard on with the ribbon.” Yazzie has established his own style.
Yazzie shared a memory of a pow-wow where he placed at…
“Back in the early 80’s they had the First Red Earth Celebration at the Marriott Convention Centre in Oklahoma City in 1984-1985. I was in tip top shape, I was 19-20 years old and I had a tie-off with a true champion at that time – the late Billy McCullan, and we had a tie for 1st place. It was one of the first pow- wow’s that hosted big prize money, they advertised over fifty thousand dollars in prize money. A lot of pow-wow people came down from all over the United States and Canada.”
Watching inspirational movies, like “Rocky” and modern movies that make an impact on working out, I put myself in their shoes is what keeps Yazzie motivated. He runs, bikes, lifts weights and dance every chance he gets. He runs hills, sprints, and runs about 3-4 miles. “When you dance fancy you don’t have to run long distances,” said Yazzie.
When getting prepared for a contest, he makes sure that everything is tied on tight, and make sure that everything is sewn on tight so that is doesn’t fall off. “I mentally prepare in my mind, thinking about back home and the support that I have from my family and the ceremonies that I attend. I remember this to carry me through the contest.”
The aspect of Spiritually is part of dancing pow-wow, Yazzie maintains his Spiritually by going home to his community, to the Masquaki Nation in Tama Iowa. “We still have our own ceremonies. Our fire is still burning, our language is still alive, our elders still speak the language. My mom still speaks fluently. I listen to her stories, and I encourage her to me the stories so I can share these stories to the younger generations. So with the ceremonies that I attend back home. I pray about it. I want to present in the most respectful way. Dancing builds confidence with confidence you can conquer the world.”
“Dancing builds confidence with confidence you can conquer the world.”
Watching the fancy dancers is like watching pow-wow Olympics, you need to be in top shape, wear a dance outfit that weights anywhere from 30-50 pounds, and know the songs. Yazzie said, “Nine times out of ten you have to know the song. The drummer or composer will compose a new song and will bring it out for the first time at the pow-wow and you have to use your dancer instinct sometimes, to try and time it just right to land that last beat of the drum.”
Not only has Yazzie been involved with dance most of his life, and started his own dance company – Native Pride Dancers, he has gotten into MCing. He has been the roving MC at the Gathering of Nations Pow-wow for the last four years. “Jason Whitehouse couldn’t make the Gathering of Nations pow wow, so I was asked to be the roving MC. This is the 4th year that I have been invited back to gathering as Public Relations and Roving MC. It was a rush and nervous at the same time. I was hosting with Lisa Meeches. Lisa guided me a lot as this was the first time doing a big event in front of thousands of people. It took a lot of prayers and preparation in a short amount of time – a few days. It was a big rush I just gave it to the creator to guide me.”
The roving MC goes around the Gathering of Nations pow-wow and interviews different audience members at the pow-wow. “I ask about their experience about this pow wow and if its there first time or have been attending for many years. I want to get their perspective of as an audience member,” explained Yazzie.
“Ten years ago I started my own dance company called Native Pride Dancers. I felt that there was a need to go into elementary and high schools to educate about pow wow dancing. How accessible pow wows are to the non natives. I get asked all the time if pow wows are open to the public. I wanted to go into the schools and educate them. The more I went into schools the more I had to talk in front of the students and teachers. The more I talked the more I began to develop my own technique of presenting with a voice and with a message at the same time. From that, I was able to create my own style of presenting in my own style,” said Yazzie.
The Native Pride Dancers was established in 2003 and its mission is to inspire, educate and empower the audience by sharing and to bridge the cultures together for a better understanding globally. The dancers go into schools, festivals, corporate events, non-profit organizations, state fairs and even pow-wows. Some of the exciting placed they have travelled to perform are Finland, Stockholm, Sweden, Norway, Republic of Moldova, United Kingdom of Jordon, Australia, Japan (three times) and Guatemala.
Yazzie feels very honoured and grateful to have the experience to travel, educate and share the beautiful Indigenous culture with world.