Writer Joseph J. Airdo // Photo Courtesy of Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts
Having participated in powwows since he was just 3 years old, Derrick Suwaima was designated head man dancer at the inaugural powwow when the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian opened its doors.
Founder and artistic director of The Living Traditions Dance Troupe and an eight-time Hoop Dance World Champion, Suwaima has traveled the world as a cultural ambassador, sharing his dance and his culture through collaborations with the Heard Museum, American Indian Dance Theatre, Billy Ray Cyrus and Willie Nelson.
And now he will debut a new theatrical work in Scottsdale that tells the story of seasons and cycles and tells the value of respecting the natural order of the universe.
“‘Dancing with the Universe | Native Style’ combines individual numbers focusing on music and dance to tell a story of universe, this planet and the living creatures who dwell here, including human beings,” says Suwaima, who is Hopi and Choctaw. “Some of the performances draw on traditions of specific Southwest tribes — from the Tohono O’odham to the Apache — while others refer to common powwow performances, most often linked to the traditions of Great Plains cultures.”
Set for 7 p.m. Saturday, May 7 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, “Dancing with the Universe | Native Style” celebrates not only human life but our relationship with the life of the universe. The center’s director of programming, Abbey Messmer, acknowledges the importance of the program, noting that the center itself sits on unceded and unsurrendered Indigenous homelands.
“For many years, we have been honored to present numerous performances by Suwaima and his Native Trails productions, which have provided opportunities for Native artists from diverse tribes — including multiple tribes based here in Maricopa County and throughout Arizona — to share their traditional movements and music,” Messmer says.
She adds that “Dancing with the Universe | Native Style” will continue that legacy, noting that Suwaima developed the work in response to receiving a prestigious grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Although Suwaima created the show and acts as its artistic director, drawing on experience from his past Native Trails productions, he notes that the other performers from a variety of tribal backgrounds contributed to its creation. The program will feature dancers and musicians from multiple Arizona-based tribes — including Hopi, O’odham, Diné and Apache.
Suwaima says that while audiences enjoy the singing and dancing of his Native Trails productions, there is another important aspect to his shows and especially of this new work: history.
Steeped in the traditions of various Southwest tribes, there is a prominent educational aspect. Moreover, performances like “Dancing with the Universe | Native Style” allow Suwaima and other Native performers to address stereotypes of Indigenous culture and people through light-hearted humor.
“We all have ancestors, and ancestors around the world use the sun, moon and stars to migrate and build, all the while appreciating and encouraging the natural order of the universe,” Suwaima says. “I hope the audience will be inspired to carry on the important responsibility of stewardship and restore and renew Mother Earth. Live to dance, and dance to live.”
“Dancing with the Universe | Native Style” // Saturday, May 7 // 7 p.m. // Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts // 7380 E. Second St., Scottsdale // $12+; discounts available for youth // scottsdaleperformingarts.org