Painted Sky dancers connect cultures through movement
Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company's founder, Mary Hager, remembers her father, a member of the French Canadian Cree, telling her to carry on the tradition of dance in indigenous culture.
"Before he passed, he wanted me to promise to keep Natives out of the shadows," Hager said. "We've always been there, on reservations three to eight hours outside of community and not being portrayed right in the history books."
Today, Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company is continuing its years of preserving Native culture by actively showcasing their work in Hillsboro this week, with a performance at Hillsboro's Glenn & Viola Walters Cultural Arts Center on March 9 at 2 p.m.
The group's mission is to connect Native artists, music and dance with non-Natives through collaboration and educating the public, Hager said.
Check it out
What: Painted Sky Northstar's performance
When: Saturday, March 9 at 2 p.m.
Where: Glenn & Viola Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E. Main St., Hillsboro
Admission: $5 in advance, $8 at the door
Hager saw an opportunity to create the dance company in 2005 after meeting Damon and Demetrius Keller, hip-hop and tap dancers from Portland.
"The sound of their tapping was basically the sound of the bells on our legs when we do our dance," Hager said. "I approached them about creating a crossover dance company and we've been moving forward ever since."
The company has traveled across the country, blending traditional dance and music with contemporary music and movement.
Based at the Garden Home Recreation Center in Washington County, about 16 dancers and performing artists travel around the Pacific Northwest to rehearse and perform.
Almost 15 years with the company, Damon Keller now serves as the dance director at Painted Sky Northstar, and has been alongside Hager in growing its outreach.
"I loved the idea to bridge the gap and merge two worlds," Damon Keller said. "I've choregraphed for commercials and shows, and with my resume, I think Mary had this trust in me to develop what she was envisioning with her stories she wanted to bring."
Each member of the Painted Sky Northstar Dance Company have their own styles of traditional dance through their respective tribes, and bringing in Damon Keller's knowledge of hip-hop, jazz, tap and other contemporary styles created a "cross-breed of dance styles," Damon Keller said.
"Dancing is a universal language. When we say bridging the gap and the contrast of the dances, music is a pulse at the end of the day," Damon Keller said.
Once, on the way to a performance in St. Louis, Mo., Damon Keller if the hip-hop song, "Need You" by Drake would work for a dance. It quickly became one of the company's favorites to perform.
"The fact that hip-hop can look like the men's fancy dance, or grass dance in Native dance, (the collaboration) became about, 'You can do what I can do, they can do what I can do, let's roll with it and have fun with it,'" Damon Keller said.
Damon Keller said the dance troupe is about keeping cultures and stories alive hundreds of years later.
"When people come to the show, they will hear language of this land and see different styles of Native dance, contemporary styles of tap, and using the music and sounds of Native musicians that now perform internationally," Hager said. "They will have a Native experience that they have not seen in the books. They will see how music and dance connects people, and show we have no barriers."
Tickets are $5 advance or $8 the day of show, and can be purchased at brownpapertickets.com, by calling 503-615-3485, or in person at 527 E. Main St., Hillsboro.
By Janae Easlon
Forest Grove News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune971-762-1166
Follow Janae at @Janae_Easlon
Subscribe to our E-News and get the week's top stories in your inbox