Obasi Turrentine

Dancing My Culture

The sun was poking in and out of the clouds. The weather was hot. There were hundreds of people gathered in a circle. I was nervous because it was going to be my first time grass dancing outside in public. I had been practicing indoors for eight months. I had danced in front of people before, but never that many.

I was at an event called the “Gathering of the Lodges” in Oakland, Ca. There were people from different tribes, and lots of Indian tacos, fry bread and chicken. People at booths sold dream catchers, necklaces, belt buckles and moccasins. Other people watched the dancing, talked, bought stuff and ate food.

It felt good to grass dance, even though it was hard because the songs were long and grass dancing is tiring. As grass dancers, we follow the elders who march eight flags out first – flags like the American flag with a Native American man in the middle. Then the drums begin playing and we come out to pat down the grass.

I am Tahono Odham, Cheyenne and African American. Grass dancing is traditional to the Cheyenne, because we are from the plains. In the plains there are a lot of snakes and lizards. Grass dancers have the job of making sure that the animals moved away while everyone is dancing. We also flatten the grass out. We step with one foot over the other and then switch.

I have wanted to dance since I was seven but I didn’t know where to go to learn. My dad, who is Native American, was away in jail four times when I was growing up so I wasn’t able to learn about my culture. I’m angry about that. I wanted to tell people that I’m Native American, but I didn’t know anything about my culture.

I started taking classes last August at the Intertribal Friendship House in Oakland. It was hard, but my cousin helped me. I got used to it and I practiced on my own. Fancy and traditional steps are different. Fancy dancing is fast, you are spinning and jumping. It’s a lot harder than grass dancing, which is slower with a little hop step. I chose to do grass dancing first because fancy is a lot more work. I wanted to get used to dancing and working out my legs.

My teacher made my regalia, which is sky blue and dark blue with a star in the middle of the back. My moccasins are light brown with red, blue and black beads. I wear a bandana on my head that is army print in dark blue, black and sky blue. When my hair was long, I put it in braids or a ponytail. My choker is light brown with clear, sky blue beads. I wear eight silver and brown bells on my ankle.

I made a lot of Native American friends dancing. It’s easier to make Native friends when you’re involved in the community. I like being together with everybody, not stressing on anything else, just chillin’.

Dancing is important to me because it’s a part of my culture. I feel like I know my culture better, which makes me feel good. It’s a part of me now. I want to have a wolf on my regalia one day because a wolf is a teacher and I feel that I teach a lot of stuff to little kids.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.