Alberta First Nations dancers heading to Cuba to perform and share culture

 Training for their tour of Cuba has been an exhausting, but rewarding, experience. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Training for their tour of Cuba has been an exhausting, but rewarding, experience. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Cuba’s equivalent of the Junos will get a taste of Canadian culture in May, as a group of First Nations youth from Siksika and Calgary head to the island country to show off their dancing skills.

“It’s a very prestigious stage,” said Jackie Soppit, the executive director of Wandering Spirit Native Awareness, the group behind the tour.

“It’s all Cuba’s highest artists and there will be a lot of celebrities there.”

Soppit studied traditional dancing in Cuba as part of a two-month residency, and is eager to return to share her culture with the population.

“I’ve had the privilege to dance in different dance genres and styles and cultures and the one thing I notice is the people don’t really know very much about Aboriginal people,” she said.

“This is a huge honour for us to be able to go there, represent and teach something about our beautiful and very much alive culture.”

Her group, which features dancers ranging from 12 to 20 years old, has been busy over the past three months crafting their dance regalia and perfecting their choreography — including learning new techniques like the Metis jig.

They will tour Cuba from April 22 to May 23.

“The youth have been a part of making the regalia, giving up their weekends. The community has really come together and helped,” she said.

Intricate designs
Anita Crowshoe is one of those who donated time as well as room in her own home for the effort, including countless hours perfecting the elaborate clothing.

“Those little intricate designs of the patterns, those are probably the ones that really tested our patience, but it really also allowed us to bond as we sewed these pieces day after day and in the evenings,” she said.

She said the tour is important for First Nations culture.

“So this is an opportunity to revive it, to pump some blood into it, to get the heart beat going, but also to get a group of young kids who were raised in an urban setting excited about the cultural component of dance and to bring it to life and share it with everyone.”

Breaking stereotypes
Many of the young dancers balanced school and training three days a week in preparation for the journey.

Wenonah North Peigan just turned 18 and says it’s “been a crazy amount of work,” but it’s been worth it.

“I think it’s really important for us to be showing people in Cuba who might not know about First Nations culture and it’s important for me because I want to really get a good word across about native people,” she said.

“I find a lot of people have stereotypes of what they think of natives or what they see in movies, so I think it will be cool for the Cubans to learn about who we are.”

–CBC News

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