Three Days of Dance

World travel has its place, but Sharon Shorty says a lot of Yukoners need to get out and take a trip into their own territory.

And, she says, if you want to start with Haines Junction, The Da Kų Nän Ts’etthet Dance Festival makes it easy.

The bi-annual festival, now in its second year, takes place at the Da Kų Cultural Centre from June 2 to June 4 and features a packed schedule of performances, as well as opportunities to get creative yourself.

“Plus, come on,” says Shorty, event coordinator for the festival “Haines Junction has got to be one of the most beautiful places in the whole world.”

The landscape will likely be overshadowed, however, by the three straight days and nights of festival programming.

The free event kicks off on June 1, with an exhibit opening at the Da Ku Cultural Centre at 6 p.m., of a show featuring traditional harvesting tools. Shorty calls the exhibit “living art” as many of the snares, nets, traps and technologies that will be on display are still used today.

From there, she says 11 dance groups from across Yukon and Alaska will perform.

One of these, the Dakwäkäda Dancers, who are the longest-running First Nation dance group in the Yukon, will be celebrating their 25-years as a group at the Dance Festival. The Dakwäkäda Dancers have their roots in the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation (CAFN).

In addition to dancing, they’ll share stories of their history during the festival.

They’ll be joined over the course of the weekend by dance groups from Alaska, including the Chilkat Dancers from Haines, the Jilkaat Kwan from Klukwan, and groups from Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau.

Closer to home, there’s the Selkirk Spirit Dancers from Pelly Crossing, the Whitehorse group Daghaalhaan K’e, and the Tagish Nation Dancers.

In addition to performances, which Shorty says take place primarily in the evenings, there are workshops in the mornings.

Language workshops include rapping in Southern Tutchone; sewing workshops include making hide headbands and dance fans from grouse feather; and more hands-on workshops include paddle-making and rabbit snare-making.

For kids, Air North is sponsoring a paper plane competition. The airline is also donating a free flight as a draw prize for one volunteer (Shorty says those interested in volunteering can contact her at [email protected]).

As well, the Yukon Circus Society will teach circus skills such as hoop, silks, unicycle-riding and juggling.

Everyone is welcome to all events, including the Friday and Saturday night feasts, which will feature traditional dishes including bison, moose meat and duck.

That said, Shorty notes there were hundreds of spectators at the 2015 festival.

Finally, Shorty says one of the new additions she’s most excited about this year is a regalia fashion show. She says this is aimed at bringing attention to the time and effort individual makers put into the regalia worn by the dancers, because there’s as much narrative there as there is in the dance itself.

“A lot of times you see people dancing and you see these beautiful regalia, but now there will be an opportunity for every participant to get up and share the story behind their button blanket, or the moccasins that their auntie made them,” she says.

Some of these pieces will include regalia made specifically for the festival.

“CAFN citizens have been getting ready by making drums, vests and button blankets in last few months, with CAFN workshops in Haines Junction and Whitehorse,” says Shorty. “Champagne and Aishihik citizens’ new regalia and drums will be brought out for first time during our festival! Exciting!”

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