Nothing can stop StoryCorps Alaska facilitators from bringing the StoryCorps experience to communities all over the State…not even a volcanic eruption! In spite of Mount Redoubt’s continued blasts, spreading ash debris throughout the airways, Facilitators Doreen Simmonds, Lisa Phu, and Elise Pepple finally made it to Bethel after many failed flying attempts. In collaboration with the Bethel Senior Center and the Bethel Council on the Arts, recordings began the week of March 22nd, 2009, alongside the Cama-i dance celebration.
Bethel, with a population of about 6,500 people, is home to Cama-i Festival. Cama-i (pronounced chew-MY), which means “a warm, genuine hello” in Yupik is a three day festival that honors, celebrates, and shares the Yup’ik Eskimo tradition of dance. 22 dance groups attended this year’s event, with dancers aging from 2 to 92. All in all, approximately 1000 people joined in the celebration. Facilitator Doreen Simmonds explains, “This is not a competition or awards. The only awards are dedications to elders. This powerful experience is a celebration of a shared but varied culture.” Groups travel from all around the state, as well as internationally, to take part in the common language of dance.
Atxam Taligisniikangis is a dance group from Atka, Alaska, a very small city about a thousand miles west of Anchorage on the Aleutian chain. They dance barefoot and are adorned in particularly beautiful outfits. They revived their dances just 20 years ago.
Almost 90 years old and barely over four feet tall, Mary Ann Sundown still knows how to please the crowd. The Scammon Bay Dancers are the host group for Mary Ann Sundown. The group leader is her son, Harley. Scammon Bay is 120 miles west of Anchorage on the Bering Sea.
Mary Ann Sundown is a well known singer and dancer, and became famous for her Eskimo dancing adaptation of the Macarena at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention. On the opening day of Cama-i she danced a song about her father, who had sores all over his body that no amount of medicine or attention could heal. As a last resort, he had his dog lick the sores – and they healed! At the end of the dance, Mary Ann Sundown raised her head to the ceiling and howled like a dog, pleasing the crowd to no end – especially with the faces she would make. “Pamyua!” the crowd would yell.
“More!” More indeed!