The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers are the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York. Ten Native American men and women – all New Yorkers – who were descended from Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and San Blas tribes, founded the troupe in 1963.
Their mission was to keep alive the traditions, songs and dances they had learned from their parents, all born on reservations. Within only a few years, they traveled across the continental U.S., expanding and sharing their repertoire and gleaning new dances on the reservations.
At 2:15 PM on Saturday, January 16th, they will perform and hold a family-friendly workshop at Flushing Town Hall. Under the direction of Louis Mofsie (Hopi & Winnebago tribes), they will use the traditional movements, clothing, and instruments of the Iroquois, Northeast Woodlands and Southwest tribes and the Great Plains people.
Mofsie, who was born in Brooklyn in 1936 and now lives in Maywood, New Jersey, said he founded the group because “We wanted to correct so many misconceptions.”
“I travel each year to visit my father’s people at the Hopi reservation in Arizona as well as many other tribes throughout the United States,” he said. “Many of us travel to learn the dances and songs of the different tribes that we include in our performances.”
Currently, five of the troupe’s 20 members (including him) were part of the original group. And they range in professions. “I taught school for 35 years,” Mofsie said. “We have computer engineers, nurses, teachers, tree surgeons, modern dancers, musicians, etc. Our members are very varied in their work.”
In the performance, each dance is explained so audience members understand its reason and cultural origins. Mofsie hopes they gain “a more realistic knowledge of native dance and a better understanding of native culture in general.”
Before the performance (at 1:00 PM), audience members will have a chance to join the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers for a music and dance workshop on the Robin Dance from the Iroquois Nation. This is a group dance suitable for adults and children. If time permits, Thunderbird will also introduce the Kiowa round dance. (Tickets to the workshop are available here.)
“We will teach an authentic traditional dance,” Mofsie said. “Participants will learn the movements and what they represent. We want people also to understand that what we do and teach are social dances and are meant for all the people to participate in.
Pivotal to their purpose is educating future generations. The Thunderbird American Indian Dances have provided more than 350 scholarships over the past half century.
“When we organized 52 years ago, only students living on a reservation could get financial help from the government,” he said. “Urban Indian students did not qualify, so we started the scholarship program initially to help urban Indian students. Today, we help any student whether they live on a reservation or not.”
For a preview, watch the video below.