Phoenix-based dancers return from London Olympics

By Lemanuel Loley
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, August 9, 2012

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(Courtesy photo)

The Yellow Bird Apache Dancers, based in Phoenix, recently returned from the London Olympic games after performing a hoop dance.

T he reason for the Yellow Bird Apache Dancers getting invited to perform at the London Olympics made Ken Duncan laugh.

"British Airways wanted us to do an anti-rain dance to keep the rain from interfering with the Olympic games," said Duncan, the group's director, about the global airline and one of the major sponsors of the Olympics.

"The anti-rain dance request had my wife and I laughing," he continued, "but then we remembered we were cultural teachers and dealt with such questions in our many treks throughout the world."

Because London had been experiencing record rain in the last few weeks, officials of the airline wanted to ensure that the rain did not stop competition.

They were referred to the 28-year-old Phoenix-based group, which is known around the world for their hoop dancing and made up of ten family members.

Needless to say, the group performed the hoop dance at the edge of the Thames River in London.

"We did the hoop dance because life is full of energy and vitality. The Olympic rings symbolize life," Duncan said.

Of performing, Duncan's 15-year-old son Sky, said, "I thought it was crazy but then cool because I got to show a side of me that nobody really gets to see. I am proud of my Native culture."

In addition to performing, the group educated the non-Natives.

For one thing, Duncan told airline officials that, "The rain dance is not done by one person but by a community. It is the collection of suffering from drought and praying that brings the rain."

Duncan and the rest of the dancers also decided that they could not ask the rain to stop. Rather, they would dance to hold off the rain.

"It was important to have the Olympics go on uninterrupted so that the countries could continue working together under one sky," said Duncan.

London is not the only place the group has performed. The have also traveled to other foreign countries such as Azerbaijan in Western Asia, Armenia, and Guatemala, to name a few.

Duncan said thanks to prior experience traveling outside the U.S., he and his family had no trouble getting their traditional regalia through U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Ken explained that on previous trips, they had trouble getting their regalia through customs. But now, they were well versed in explaining their purpose.

"From years of experience, we've learned to print letters of request for regalia from countries that ask us to perform," he said.

They have also entertained U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, as well as royalty from Denmark and the South Pacific island Tonga.

Upon arrival in London, the Duncan family received a phone call from officials at British Airways.

"We had received a call saying that London was now experiencing record heat," Duncan said. "We were told we brought the Arizona heat."

The group arrived four days prior to their performance and they grasped the opportunity to sight see.

"We had the chance to see…the Olympic torch as it was being brought into London," Ken said, "I never thought I'd see that."