While attending a conference in New Mexico some years ago, my friend Georgia Abeita and I were pleased to be invited to a celebration where numerous young dancers performed in the costume of their various tribes.
There was lots of green chile stew and fry bread, and great platters of melon of all sorts. There were dozens of displays of artwork for sale, including great pottery, basketry and blankets. Far too much to take in in an afternoon although we gave it a good shot, and ended up happily leaving a little money by the end of the day.
But the excitement of the day for me came with the colorful dancers, with their feathers, beadwork and deerskin boots all moving in unison to the insistent beat of the drummers who sat alongside the circle of dancers. Lots of tribal elders had their usual suspicious frowns, watching to make sure no one was photographing, which is always a bit nerve-racking, as you need to keep your cameras out of sight until the dance is over.
There were young men and women from all over the Southwest mingling and laughing together as young kids do until the serious business of dance began. Then they arranged themselves naturally into the circle dance and gracefully flowed into the age-old steps with lovely looks of concentration on their beautiful faces. The various tribes and villages were recognizable not only by their dress, but sometimes by their distinctive features. Pueblo, Kiowa, Plains Indians of many tribes were represented, and the color was amazing as they passed by.
At the end of the dance, when talking to some of the dancers, I was given permission to photograph, and came away with these two young people which I painted when I returned to my studio.
The sweetness of the girl contrasted greatly with the wonderfully arrogant expression of the boy, who had not not yet become confident in his young manhood.
O’Odham Tash watercolor painting by Kayti Sweetland Rasmussen Black Eagle, Kiowa watercolor by KSR