“We are gonna put the POW in the WOW to make pow-wow. We are gonna razzle and dazzle you.” The translator did as good a job as she could, but it is highly likely that the full meaning of these words eluded the crowd of Moldovans gathered in the half-filled auditorium of the Bălţi House of Culture. What they could not convey verbally, however, the Native Pride dancers certainly transmitted with their feet.
Last week, while the entire Embassy geared up for Secretary Kerry’s visit, the Public Affairs Section organized a week’s worth of performances by a troupe of Native American dancers. They held afternoon workshops with students, followed by evening concerts in four different cities across the country. The Ambassador introduced the group at their Chisinau and Tiraspol performances, but the Embassy needed a couple of other speakers, and D volunteered to deliver remarks at the group’s Bălţi show.
Lying two hours north of Chisinau via mostly decent roads, Bălţi is Moldova’s second most important city. The Embassy’s entire fleet of motorpool vehicles had been committed for the Secretary’s visit so we took a car service, which almost made us regret our decision to go. It seemed that the curvier the road became, the harder the driver pressed down on the accelerator. We breathed a sigh of relief when the city limits came into view, but had to spend another half-hour in the car as the we criss-crossed the city on unfamiliar, rutted side streets in search of the House of Culture.
Bălţi has a sizable Russian-speaking population, which is why the Embassy chose to send D there. Even so, as soon as D opened his mouth to welcome the audience, someone yelled at him from the back of the house to speak in Romanian. D replied in Romanian that unfortunately he did not speak the language before proceeding with the rest of the remarks. We are sure that whatever disappointment the audience might have felt at being addressed in Russian quickly dissipated once the performers took the stage.
Emerging one by one, they shared stories about their cultures before singing, playing instruments, and performing traditional dances. The five dancers included 20-year-old siblings from Utah, a veteran dancer who has called Spain home for the last 15 years, and this year’s Miss Native American USA. One of them paid homage to the eagle’s flight, another gamboled around the stage imitating a mating chicken, and a third performed the “fancy dance” — a traditional Native American war dance.
Interestingly, neither of us had seen a Native American dance performance before. Funny how sometimes one has to travel half a world away to have the opportunity to fully appreciate the richness of one’s own national culture.
The highlight of the show was the audience participation part the group saved for the end of their performance. To say that some of the two dozen children and youths whom the dancers chose to join them onstage were reluctant to accept the invitation would be an understatement. One young girl practically had to be carried onto the stage. Thankfully, her shyness eventually melted away and she too joined in on the fun.
And so it came to pass that we were treated to the spectacle of Native Americans in full regalia teaching dance moves to a group of young Moldovans while the sound technician turned up the volume on the Black-Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” Talk about cross-cultural communication!
After the show, virtually the entire auditorium flocked to the stage, mobbing the dancers to take pictures with them. It’s unclear whether the show’s message of appreciating cultural diversity fully sunk in for all of the spectators, but we’re sure this was a performance unlike any they had seen and one they will definitely remember for many years to come.