ANCHORAGE - Today, almost every community event in the Northwest Arctic Borough schedules a slot for Native dancing.
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Until 30 years ago, those dances were discouraged and even forbidden by the influence of the church and the Western world. The dances were thought to be lost.
But a group of youth from Kotzebue has discovered these dances are very much alive on both sides of the Bering Straights.
Some time next year, the five teens are scheduled to complete a DVD movie project titled "The Lost Dances of Kotzebue."
A trailer for the film will be presented at the Beringia Days Conference on Sept. 21-23 in Anadyr, Russia.
The DVD is a 60-minute documentary that examines through interviews and recordings of Native dances the connections between Russia and Alaska Natives in the Arctic.
It is part of a youth media project coordinated by D'Anne Hamilton, economic development director for the Northwest Arctic Borough and tribal specialist for the Native Village of Kotzebue, and Minnie Naylor, a former high school graduate from Kotzebue.
The project looks to economically develop the region and bring Kotzebue into the mainstream of a digital world.
It also seeks preservation of Native culture while giving the students a platform for personal expression.
Fortunately, the National Park Service's Shared Beringian Program, which links the contemporary and historic exchange of biological resources and cultural heritage shared by Russia and the United States on both sides of the Bering Strait, was searching for just this sort of project and granted the Kotzebue project a three-year grant totaling $105,834.
Additional funding came from the Alaska Humanities Forum, National Geographic's All Roads Program, the 2007 Qatnut Trade Fair, the Native Village of Kotzebue and the Northwest Arctic Borough.
The five students involved in the production are Frank Ferguson, Fallon Fairbanks, Jackie Lambert, Ryan McConnell and Denali Whiting.
The project is also receiving outside help from Norman Jayo, an award-winning multimedia trainer who has extensive experience with Rural Alaskan Communities through his work at the Alaska Native Youth Media Institute at the Alaska Public Radio Network and from Chriselda Pacheco, an independent photographer.
Both are in charge of the post-production stages of the movie and provide direction for quality recording and treatment of the story.
Three years ago, the group began its work, starting with the basics of introduction to the equipment. The goals were to tell the story of the dances through the dancers and the parallel story of the students themselves - how they see the dances in context to their own lives, according to Hamilton.
In addition to the interviews with both Russian and Alaska dancers, the students included personal interviews and their own touches through their personal passions. For instance, Lambert displayed her love for photography, Fairbanks her writing and Ferguson has created beats to accompany several of the clips in the movie.