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waltonksm

Yurak: Dance Practice

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OK, not your standard dancing.  Although it is pretty warm for this time of year, fishing is done, with smoked or dried, or just salted fish put away for winter. Most people have their moose meat in the freezer, and it is time for a few social activities.  SO..... Eskimo dancing is starting up.  These are just practice sessions, with the really hard work yet to come.

 

I have tried as much as possible to capture the dancing, BUT, I also wanted to get as much of the background activity as I could.  Look in the background and you will see a lot of texting going on while the dancing is happening.  Younger children (mostly the boys) are trying to learn to drum.  They are selecting the best drumsticks and trying to look like they are "one of the boys." So, we have old cultural traditions, combined with new technology.  I am fighting with cameras and the room characteristics. Relatively low ceilings, at least 6 or 8 different brands of florescent tubes, with probably all of them having a different number of hours in use, some rapid motions, and high ISO's.  Most of these are from last night.  I thought my first night was terrible, so I mostly stuck with long lenses on night 2.

 

I made liberal use of the 50-200 4/3 lens with an adapter (and not the 1.4x TC) and some of the 9-18 zoom, both on an EM1, Mark II.  Also, a Tokina 11-16, and a Nikon 55-200 on my D500.  I also used flash, as well as available light. I am still trying to deal with the challenges caused by architecture, as well as the dancers, themselves.  I am really having fun with some of these photos.  I hope you enjoy them.

 

Yurak:  Eskimo Dancing at St. Mary's, Alaska

 

 

Yurak:  Eskimo Dancing at St. Mary's, Alaska

 

These two boys have not learned this dance yet, so they are turning around and trying to copy the girls.

 

Yurak Practice at the City Hall

 

Picking out a good drumstick:

Yurak Practice at the City Hall

 

And follow the action of the girls on the top row of the bleachers.

 

Yurak Practice at the City Hall

 

Young drummers, and young texters

Yurak Practice at the City Hall

 

And a VERY young dancer, perhaps for next season?  She ALMOST has the right hand motions.

 

A Very Young Dancer

 

 

 

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Walton, I always enjoy your insightful images of your indigenous peoples & their activities and these ones are no exception! :)

 

The single sided drums are a departure from what I am used to;  likewise the feathered hand instruments.

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Thank you, Hugh.  When I was here before it was still film. And I was also reluctant to get so close to my subjects.  I am a distant sort of person, and I have trouble getting close to people. And my job title is "Village SOB."

 

Now that I am older, I am much less worried about being out "in front."  And frankly, the D500 has made a huge difference with available light, even at fairly high ISO's.  I still think it beats the EM1 Mark II..... maybe. But it is close.  I was surprised to view some of my EM1 images in flickr at the "Original" size. I expected much noise/grain.  But the Olympus does a very good job of handling things. I need some more side-by-side comparisons. This may turn out to be a "battle of the strobes."   These are Yup'k drums.  From watching other groups (mostly on coverage of the annual conference) the Athabaskan drums are very similar. Years ago the City agreed to spring for a walrus gut for a very big, very special bass drum.  $100 and some negotiation with some coastal groups.

 

Since no one is beating a path to my door for my photos, I finally got some of the key members of the drummers to look at Flickr photos last night.  I told them I would like to put together a photo book, with their help,  that covers their dancing:  The practices, the more formal events (Potlatch) and some of the events with invited groups from other communities. I really am glad to be a part of this community, and would like to leave something behind that people can take pride in. I told them I would prefer to NOT lose a lot of money on it, but my goal will be to put something together that they can sell for some funding for their travel.  We will see how it works.  As soon as I find the image, I will post a photo I do not believe I have posted before.  It was enlarged to poster size (maybe 3' x 4') and hung in our hall. 

 

I think there is a better one that I printed poster-sized.  Right now I cannot locate it.  This was with the D700. One of my local friends laughed when she saw it.  She said it was apparent that all of the men were related:  they all have the same nose shape. Maybe....

 

Drummers at St. Marys, AK

 

Edited by waltonksm
did not mean to post it yet.
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1 hour ago, Hugh_3170 said:

Walton, I always enjoy your insightful images of your indigenous peoples & their activities and these ones are no exception! :)

 

The single sided drums are a departure from what I am used to;  likewise the feathered hand instruments.

 

They are Dance Fans.  The Men's fans are sort of crude.  Plywood rings with feathers placed in holes drilled in the plywood (i think mostly Gull feathers.) The women's fans are woven grasses, with caribou hair woven into the grass.  I once owned a beautiful pair that I paid $100 for in 1986, and they were stolen from my office in a break-in. There are people within our region who are recognized "masters" of dance fan construction (the women's.)  Our "region" is larger than the state of Oregon, with 22,000 or so Natives residing here. They are mostly Yup'ik, with some Athabaskan

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Excellent photo-reportage.

It is wonderful to see that these traditions are apparently thriving.

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Thank you Vivion.  And actually, they really are thriving, now.  One of the Native cultural leaders here teamed up with an outside white guy (who has now been a friend for some 35 years) and started writing for grants and donations to revive the traditional dance and singing.  The funding was for transportation and food costs, for the most part. This tradition was pretty much "beaten out" of Native children many years ago.  I have watched this spread back to other villages since these two guys started this. I know the present Catholic presence out here actually supports this (now a days). I think less support from the more fundamentalist groups.  Alaska Airlines stopped flying to Providenya not long after they started this route.

 

Their intent was to fund a "seed" to start growing, then see if it could eventually spread on it's own, and be picked up in communities where it had died out,  with a little (actually a lot) of help. This started in the early 1980's, and I worked to assist organizing the second regional dance festival in 1988, as I recall. I also hosted the third (or 4th?) big festival here in the mid 1990's.  Maybe a year or two after Glastnost, these same two guys managed to get support to fly to Providenya, Russia, and meet with Siberian Eskimos there.  They were invited to a dance festival in another lower Yukon community.  My friend, who went with them, said they communicated  from English,, to Yup'ik, to Russian.  Siberian Yup'ik is VERY close to lower Yukon River Yup'ik.  So the Siberians knew Yup'ik and Russian. There is continuing support from some Native organizations (but not much.) For this festival they had the funding for the Alaska Airlines costs for the round trip tickets from Nome to Providenya.

 

Although not agreed upon by everyone, the theory is that transmitting and teaching cultural values and language will help improve many social problems in the region.  I have personally supported this.  I do not have any ability to "prove" that it works.  Time will tell.... maybe.

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Surely a worthy candidate for UNESCO cultural heritage protection.

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Vivion:

 

You know, It seems there was some discussion about this.  I will send an email to my friend and see if he can jog my memory a bit.  He is younger than I, so probably still has a few more brain cells than I. 

 

I really like some of my photos. I like seeing all of the action in them. There was a school (of Dutch?) painters that did "slices of life?" Rowdy pub scenes, parties, dancing, and more.   I enjoy moving to different areas and finding other activities going  on. 

 

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Yes - definitely.

 

45 minutes ago, vivionm said:

Surely a worthy candidate for UNESCO cultural heritage protection.

 

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Very interesting story and photos, but the kids with the smartphones probably represent the future.

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Anthony:  Yes, they do.  20 years ago the school kids were complaining about a lack of "things to do." I commented that here we are, 450 miles away from Anchorage, with an environment that some people pay thousands of dollars to experience, whether to hunt, fish, or raft.  I was told I was out of date and old.  These kids want Nintendo, a "club" for gaming, etc.

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Here is my "poster" on the wall of our community  hall..... I really think it has helped with my getting less (or even NO) resistance to my doing photography with our Yurak group. You can see also some of the detail on the woven part of this young girl's dance fans. Nope, it is not a very great image, I uploaded it for the poster in the background.  The lucite cover is very reflective, but may insure that it lasts for a while.

 

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WBS_3407_256.JPG

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And two more:  This is one of Mary's younger grandchildren. She will be trying to dance before too long, and will start to copy what the adults are doing. Last year a pre-school boy walked out to the mat that was set up at Potlatch (during a break),  picked up someone's dance fans, and joined in. He was doing all the moves properly.  He had NEVER been seen to practice; he just suddenly decided it was time to join in.  I was amazed! And while he has the same color Kuspuk that his family is wearing, his has a spiderman print on it.  (third photo).  A Kuspuk is a traditional top, used by men and women, that pulls over, and has a large center "pocket" in the front.

 

Dance Practice

 

Dance Practice

 

And an admission:  I thought I could shoot the D500 at ISO 5000 and do better (less noise) than the EM1 Mark II at ISO 4000. It looks like the D500 loses on this one.  My next trial I guess I will shoot them at the same ISO.  I am surprised by this result.

 

And below is during Potlatch, last February. Potlatch is usually a three day event, every year. The young boy, (front, second from the right,)  has just made his "debut." His older sister is at the top, right, standing.  He is the reason for the big smile she has. He attended many of the practices, but never attempted dancing at any of them. This was a total surprise to the whole family. And sometimes I am his almost "Uppa." (grandfather.)

 

A New Dancer

 

 

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