A dance at the Native American Festival in the Bronx. Photo by Wyatt Salsbury
The sounds of beating drums, rhythmic chants, and joyous people brought gatherers, near and far, to the Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx Sunday afternoon to celebrate a proud culture.
The Native American Festival, or yearly pow wow attracted hundreds of diverse people to celebrate native culture. They danced traditional Native American dances, ate Native foods, like fry bread, and listened to stories and admired the dreamcatchers that were sprinkled throughout the event.
“This is a unique opportunity for non-natives to interact one-on-one with native people,” said organizer and master of ceremonies, Bobby Gonzalez, 64, of Melrose, Bronx. “And, it’s a way of dispelling commonly held stereotypes about native people.”
There are 567 recognized Native American tribes in the United States, but the diversity within the culture is not often celebrated.
“We’re lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, we’re not all casino Indians,” said Kevin Tarrant, 46, who identified as part Hopi and part HoChunk, which are indigenous tribes from Arizona and Wisconsin. “We all look different. You could be riding the subway everyday next to an Indian, and you wouldn’t even know it.”
Tarrant said that the goal for the festival was to bring knowledge and exposure to native culture in the Bronx, which has roughly 41,706 people that identify as American Indian or Alaska Native alone. That is 2.9% of the estimated 1,438,159 people living in the Bronx.
Tarrant, the head singer for the Silver Cloud Singers and the Executive Director of the American Indian Community House based in New York, played a pow wow drum during the festival.
The drum used was made of Buffalo Hide in Washington state. The pow wow drum, like other aspects of indigenous culture, is intended to bring people together. Its design allows multiple people to play it at once, and it is used for a lot of the music at pow wows.
Toni Ceaser, 61, of Long Island City, Queens, participated in a women’s traditional dance – a very slow dance in Native American culture. While not Native American herself, Ceaser’s husband is and she has been immersed in his culture for over 40 years and participating in similar festivals for over 20 years.
“It’s really important for people to share culture with one another, because everybody’s got their own culture, and if we can share and appreciate each other’s culture, then I think it brings people closer together,” said Ceaser.
Skye Cabrera, 26, of the Bronx, who identified as Dominican and Greek, said that although she is not Native American, she loved the culture and felt that there was a connection between Native American culture and her own.
“If you look at our history – Dominicans, Taino culture – we stem from that, especially being American,” said Cabrera. “There’s a lot of Native American history in New York in general.”
According to Path Through History NY – “Native Americans” there were multiple New York tribes that occupied the state many centuries ago. The largest was the Iroquis tribe, who the European settlers first met when they arrived 400 years ago.
Ceaser said being able to connect to the past is an important part of the festival.
“In New York City, it’s become so modern, that it’s really important to be able to connect with the old ways,” she said.
More than a dozen clubs are presenting the art of burlesque in New York City alone. It has been a successful industry in America since the 19th century. Started as a sexy parody, it evolved to a revealing art form helping women to promote a pride of sexuality with a little help from old fashioned jazz music and glitter.
“It`s all about glamour and creating this vision of yourself, a fantasy that is achievable for all women,” said Calamity Chang, a burlesque performer in Nurse Bettie, a 1950’s style burlesque club in the Lower East side.
Even though teasing is the main part of the show, it is not a striptease. The performers will keep private parts to themselves. Pasties to cover nipples, thongs or a merkin, which is a pubic wig, to hide the rest are required in cabarets and burlesque clubs. Lap dances or touching are not allowed either, but sometimes the audience doesn’t listen.
“Worst was someone slapping my butt,” said Chang. “Women do that way more then men… They think it is OK because we are both women. No it is not OK.”
But there is no fear of being touched in burlesque schools, everybody is equally beautiful, sexy and scared.
“I am the juicy cherry on top of the creamy cupcake” is the first thing the students of Burlesque Bikini Bootcamp in Chelsea, say in front of the mirror in class. Teachers believe it will help students to feel a little more special after a long day at work.
“I just want to make an exercise that is about feeling good as you are right now,” said Lady Chardonnay, the teacher and founder of the school. “Let people know a woman is supposed to look like a woman.”
To help the women loosen up she encourages students to wear lingerie and heals during the class. For those who do not own any sexy clothes, the school provides colorful boas and gloves to practice seductive ways to take it off.
“It`s a great confidence builder,” said student, Liz Eddy. “That`s the best thing. It`s strange looking yourself in the eye and enjoying the moves. The first time we were laughing the entire class.”
Humor helps a lot in achieving the main target – confidence. Teachers never push students to cross any personal borders. But they say to be topless is a very natural thing.
“Eventually, I can probably get to a point when with a group of women, it would be comfortable,” said student, Alyssa Ruderman. “But the fear of somebody will be taking a picture of me is on the back of my mind, but that room feels like a safe space.”
Shape Up NYC, a new program with the Department of Parks and Recreation, is encouraging New Yorkers to slim down and tone up.
In an effort to combat obesity, the program offers free classes—including yoga, dance, aerobics and Zumba –seven days a week at recreation centers throughout the city.
According to the New York State Department of Health, more than 45 percent of adults in Manhattan are either overweight or obese. Rates are even higher in the other boroughs, from 56 percent in Queens to 68 percent in Brooklyn.
Francis Steward, a program instructor at the Hamilton Fish Recreation Center in the Lower East Side, leads the Wednesday night class, “The Awesome Three: Body Conditioning, Boot Camp and Kick Boxing.”
“We target on toning, toning where women, and men won’t have flab,” Steward said. “Basically I work their core and abs and build up their muscles- keep their bones and muscles strong.”
Beverly Williams, a regular in Steward’s class, attributes her toned arms to the weekly workout. “I can see definition in my arms, I don’t want my arms to be flabby,” Williams said. “So I see a different change in my body and that’s what I’m happy about.”
The city will continue the program through April 8, when participants will come together to celebrate their weight loss success as part of “The New Year New You” Challenge.”