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Students to perform tribal dances in Europe

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Natasha Sanchez proudly wears a colorful purple American Indian dress while bobbing her head and tapping her feet during an intricate dance her ancestors began long ago in homage to the grass of the fields.

"The dances we do may not be what they show on TV," she said. "It's a part of my culture and I'm learning about a part of myself."Sanchez and 11 other Utah County students from Navajo, Hopi, Tewa-Pueblo and Tlinget tribes will leave Sunday to perform traditional American Indian dances in full regalia at the Warfum International Folkfest in the Netherlands next week.

Evelynn O'Dell, the coordinator of minority programs for the Alpine School District, received an invitation in January from the festival organizers to bring a troupe of students to perform for European crowds enthralled with tribal legends and beliefs.

O'Dell chose the dancers from a field of applicants who were required to write an essay and submit grade-point averages earned in Alpine, Provo and Nebo districts classes.

Casting a glance to students practicing steps during a dress rehearsal Friday at Mountain View High School, O'Dell admits some reticence about being able to hone the dances, sew the symbolic costumes and raise the required $25,000 for travel costs.

But the largest obstacle, said a chuckling O'Dell, was teaching the students how and why to move to the mystic chants and rhythmic drum beats.

"These students didn't know how to dance when we started," she said. "At the beginning, we were a motley crew. But we kept working and working and the students got it together."

Students washed cars, had a bake sale and sold Navajo tacos in parking lots to raise money. Several Utah companies also donated money for the trip.

Calvin Harper, a representative from Integrated Masonry Systems International, a company that donated money to the group, has primed students about European culture. All 12 students and four chaperones will stay with host families while at the weeklong event.

Harper, who also is an American Indian, served his LDS mission in the European country.

"This is a great experience for the kids. Most Indians lack confidence and this will help them with that," Harper said. "They have had to learn a whole bunch of new things."

This is a chance that many American Indian students and their parents will never have. Few have had opportunities to even travel past the borders of the reservation or neighboring states, Harper said.

"Many in the Native American community said this could never be done," he said. "These students will have the opportunity to showcase their talents to an international audience."

Timpview Junior Derek Willie is looking forward to perusing compact disc stores during his stay overseas. He's saved enough money to buy a few CDs for a reminder of the trip.

Willie said it's hard work to do the physically challenging dances, most of which he had only seen done at powwows.

"It's tiring," he said. "The first time we were just dying. Now we're ready to go."