47 years..NY’s oldest Native American Dance Company
The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers are the oldest resident Native American dance company in New York. The troupe was founded in 1963 by a group of ten Native American men and women, all New Yorkers, who were descended from Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and San Blas tribes. Some were in school at the time; all were “first generation,” meaning that their parents had been born on reservations. They founded the troupe to keep alive the traditions, songs and dances they had learned from their parents, and added to their repertoire from other Native Americans living in New York and some who were passing through. Within three or four years, they were traveling throughout the continental U.S., expanding and sharing their repertoire and gleaning new dances on the reservations. (A number of Thunderbird members are winners of Fancy Dance contests held on reservations, where the standard of competition is unmistakably high.) Members of the Thunderbirds range in professions from teachers to hospital patient advocates, tree surgeons and computer engineers who share a commitment to raising scholarships for young American Indian students. Over the years, Thunderbird works, activities and events have assisted more than 400 students.
An Important History: Preserving Native Culture Traditions
Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, officially incorporated in 1963, tracing its roots further back, to a group of teenagers called the Little Eagles. From the beginning, keenly aware of the great diversity of tribal groups living
in and around the metropolitan area — each with a very distinct cultural background — its members were determined to learn and preserve the songs and dances of their own tribes, then to branch out and include other tribes. Their teachers were their fathers, mothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Since its formation, Louis Mofsie and the Thunderbird
American Indian Dancers have visited and performed in almost all fifty states, where they have learned from a wide variety of Indian peoples. The Thunderbirds pledged to help preserve and perpetuate the culture and traditions of the American Indian people through their songs and dances, and their ceremonies wherever possible, and to bring before the general public a more realistic picture and greater understanding of the American Indian people through dance performances, lectures, pow wows and workshops. In fulfilling this pledge, the Thunderbirds have shared performances and workshops in venues including: The New York World’s Fair, Lincoln Center, Museum of Natural History, Heye Foundation, Barnard College, and The National Museum of the American Indian among others. They have also toured throughout the United States and in Canada, Israel and Japan.
The Thunderbird American Indian Dancer Sponsor
the Only Monthly Pow-Wow in New York City
The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers take great pride in sponsoring the only monthly Pow-Wow in New York City, which has been held continuously since the first pow wow in November, 1963 at the 23rd Street YMCA in Manhattan. In addition to dancing and singing, the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers’ activities include the Native American Craft Workshop, Indian Studies programs for Indian youth, Cherokee language classes, the
Thunderbird American Indian Dancer’s Scholarship Fund
Thunderbird American Indian Dancer’s Scholarship Fund for Indian students, the election of fifteen New York City Indian Queens, and the New York City Indian of the year. The company also presents an annual season at the Theatre for New City in Manhattan, and has produced two albums of songs featuring The Thunderbirds and Heyna Second Sons.
Through the years, the Thunderbirds maintain scholarship funds for needy American Indian students, provide singing, dance and crafts workshops among other activities on a volunteer basis while maintaining their jobs.
Thunderbird Annual Events
After four decades since its inception, the Thunderbirds ‘annual events continue to be celebrated as annual traditions for many families and friends:
Thunderbird Auctions at The American Indian Community House including hand-crafted turquoise, silver, Pueblo pottery, bead, bone and leather work, Native dance regalia, Pendleton blankets, vintage pieces from a great variety of Native peoples living on the Northwest coast and among the Hopi, Seminole, Navajo, Mohawk and many more. These pieces are assembled by Louis Mofsie and Thunderbird members all year long to provide dancers and collectors with the best quality, authentic, often homemade pieces.
The Thunderbird weekend Mid-Summer out-door Pow Wow at Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park, NY. A Pow-Wow is more than just a spectator event: it is a joyous reunion for native peoples nationwide and an opportunity for the non-Indian community to voyage into the philosophy and beauty of Native culture. Traditionally a gathering and sharing of events, Pow-Wows have come to include spectacular dance competitions, exhibitions, and enjoyment of traditional foods.
The Thunderbird Mid-Summer Pow Wow sprawls across Queens Farm, where children enjoy hayrides, sunset bonfire and a variety of farm animals as well as The Thunderbird tipi. Dancers travel to compete for first, second and third prizes at this annual pow wow, joining other dancers in specials such as the Smoke Dance and a variety of social dances. Registered dancers are given Saturday evening dinner and access to a camping area.
Special guests often include the Tlacopan Aztec Dancers, Smoke Dancers, Singer Irene Badard, Flutists, Thunderbird Hoop Dancers Michael Taylor, Marie McKinney, Donna Ahmadi and others. 40 Vendors are part of the extended pow wow family, sharing their Native crafts, foods demonstrations and stories while selling only Native items made by American Indian crafts peoples and artists from the Carolinas, Peru, New Mexico, New York, Puerto Rico, Oklahoma, Arizona, Canada and much more. Pageantry is an important component of the event, and all participants are elaborately dressed. Most dances are performed in the traditional Circle, which represents a unity of peoples and invites everyone to become part of our pow wow family. There is a wealth of cultural information encoded in the movements of each dance. More than ten distinct tribes will be represented in the performance.
Thunderbird American Indian Dancers Annual Concert at The Theater for the New City on tenth street and first avenue in New York City. This year’s 36th Annual concert celebrates a long standing partnership between Crystal Fields at Theater for the New City and the Thunderbirds. The first of these annual performances was produced at TNC’s previous Tenth street and Second Avenue location. Highlights of this year’s presentation featuring Hoop Dancer Marie McKinney (Cherokee) , a Caribou Dance (from the Inuit people of Alaska), a Buffalo Dance (from the Hopi people), a Grass Dance and Jingle Dress Dance (from the Northern Plains people), a Stomp Dance (from the Southeastern tribes), and a Shawl Dance (from the Oklahoma tribes). Featured performers will include the Heyna Second Son Singers (various tribes). In the final section of the program, the audience will be invited to join in the Round Dance, a friendship dance.
Matinees (Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 PM) are kids’ days, in which children under twelve accompanied by a ticket-bearing adult are admitted for $1.00 (adults are $10 at all performances). After matinees, the cast will remain in the theater to personally meet the children attending and be photographed with them. This component of the show was inspired by the troupe’s school residencies. Says Louis Mofsie, the Thunderbirds’ artistic director, “Educators try to supplement the kids’ knowledge of Native Americans and to teach them about different cultures”. But the emphasis is on how we used to live, in the past tense. The kids are never taught how to relate to us in the present. Now they can meet us, and be photographed with us, and it’s present tense. It’s more than just seeing us on stage.” He adds, “Learning about different cultures is important to enlarging the kids’ perspective, particularly in light of what’s going on in the world. We’re in trouble today because we don’t understand different cultures.”
Throughout the performance, all elements are explained in depth through detailed introductions by the troupe’s Director and Emcee Louis Mofsie (Hopi/Winnebago). Dances, songs, performance art fusions by 25 to 30 dancers are interlaced with vivid stories by storytellers such as Matoake Eagle, Joe Cross, or Elviraa and Hortensia Colorado. An educator, Mofsie plays an important part in the show by his ability to present a comprehensive view of native culture. Native American craft items will be displayed in the TNC lobby which exhibits an elaborate art exhibit.