First Time Performance in Juneau for Git Hayetsk

holly-fisher-1BY HOLLY FISHER
Staff  Writer, UAS Whalesong

The internationally renowned Git Hayetsk dance group performed in the Egan library on Mar. 25, bringing the mask dances of numerous First Nations cultures to Juneau for the first time.

Dr. Mique’l Dangeli, UAS Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Studies, led a dance workshop Friday evening, which tied into the main event Saturday.

The main focus was on sharing the art styles of Northwest Coast dance and song traditions.

Dr. Dangeli and her husband Mike Dangeli, co-leaders of Git Hayetsk, were joined by several dancers from Metlakatla and Vancouver, British Colombia.

Git Hayetsk performs traditional songs and dances that have been passed down through their familial lines for generations. However, they also have songs that they have written, and ones that have been gifted to them from family and friends. In addition to this, the masks used by the Git Hayetsk dancers are hand carved by Mike Dangeli.

Though this event was eagerly looked forward to, Git Hayetsk faced unexpected adversity in preparing for the Showcase. Their masks and robes, which had been placed with a carrier two weeks before the event date, were detained in U.S. customs in Tennessee.

The six tubs were placed for shipment from Vancouver, British Colombia to Juneau, but the carrier rerouted them east, where they were detained by several federal-level agencies.

By the time the Dangeli’s were informed of the delay, they had less than a week to get them back.

However, the detaining of the boxes was more than just a logistical problem.

“Our masks are not inanimate. They have their lives, and they are members of our dance group,” Dr. Dangeli said, as she explained the emotional pain the entire group went through while fighting to regain the lost ceremonial beings.

There is a deep, spiritual connection between the dancers and their masks, making the predicament feel akin to being separated from a family member.

In this trying time, UAS came through for one of our own. Chancellor Rick Caulfield, Provost Karen Carey, and numerous others put the full weight of the university behind the struggle to release the precious masks.

They, along with the Dangelis, embarked on a long series of phone calls and emails to anyone who could help resolve the situation.

The totes were finally sent to Anchorage, where two UAA graduate students got them  enroute to Juneau.

Five of the six boxes arrived at 7 am on March 25. Though there is still one box to recover, the majority of the masks have been returned to their dance group. The Dangeli’s, and their dancers presented gifts of thanks to the many individuals who rallied to their cause and helped resolve the dilemma.

Despite the difficulties, the event was exceptionally well received, and sparked great interest in the dance group’s work.

Approximately 250 people attended the Saturday event, where humor, fear, happiness, and sadness were all fundamental pieces of the dances and songs.

“They have the power of laughter, of making people reflect on what they have seen, and to scare.” Said Dr. Dangeli on the meaning behind the songs, both ancient and new.

The arts of dancing, singing, and mask carving are deeply important to the continuation of Northwest Coast history and culture. Git Hayetsk presents them to people  all over the world as a means with which to inform, and to share.

For more information on the dance group, Git Hayetsk, contact Dr. Mique’l Dangeli by phone 796-7061 or e-mail midangeli@alaska.edu.

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