Thunderbird American Indian dancers perform at the 35th annual Dance...

Thunderbird American Indian dancers perform at the 35th annual Dance Concert and Pow Wow Concert held at the Theater for The New City in Manhattan's East Village on February 2010. Photo by Shareef Mohammed Credit: Shareef Mohammed Photo/Sarah Tung

Colorful costumes, energetic footwork and entrancing music in different languages are only the beginning of what's in store when the Thunderbird American Indian Dancers take the stage.

Through traditional dances with names like "Smoke," "Stomp" and "Feather," the Manhattan-based troupe is telling the audience a story about American Indian history, culture and everyday life.


The Thunderbirds were formed in 1963 by New Yorkers from the Mohawk, Hopi, Winnebago and San Blas tribes. The group's goal is to keep these traditional dances alive while respecting the individuality of each tribe.

The group's director, Louis Mofsie, says the Thunderbirds' performances are a bit different from what spectators see at American Indian powwow dance competitions.

"Before each performance, I explain the history and importance of the dance," he says. "You'll also learn what tribe it is from, the dance moves and the significance of the costumes."

This helps the audience follow along with the story line and leave with a greater understanding of what the dances symbolize.

The dancers' costumes tell a story, too.

"You'll see certain colors or patterns that are particular to that tribe," says Julian Gabourel, 51, a Mayan originally from Belize who performs the Shawl and Jingle dances in regalia she makes herself. "Maybe a sun blossom from a Southwestern tribe, a teepee in the pattern if the person is from the Plains."


Mofsie says the tentative performance lineup includes a Hopi language greeting followed by a flute solo. Then, a parade of costumed dancers will perform several traditional dances, including:

Robin A celebration of spring, watch for hops and other moves imitating a bird.

Fish Dancers will imitate fish squirming to get out of a fisherman's net.

Feather A dancer will contort to pick up a feather in his mouth without touching his hands, knees or elbows to the ground.

Jingle A dancer will imitate a progressive illness and then a return to good health.

Some traditional American Indian dances, such as the high-stepping women's Shawl or men's Hoop, require stamina.

"The music is fast-paced," Mofsie says. "The dancers -- especially the men -- are showing how fit they are."

Other dances, such as the call-and-response Stomp, often encourage the audience to participate. Audience members will be invited to come on- stage to learn and perform steps along with the dancers.



Mofsie will lead a one-hour pre-show workshop at 1 p.m. geared to all ages -- children and adults -- that will involve the Thunderbirds giving hands-on lessons.

"I like the thought of parents and children learning the steps together," Mofsie says. "That's the way it would be in the tribe."

Mofsie said the workshop's intimate format helps teach participants that the Indian culture has an everyday presence.

"When you read the history books, we're always referred to in the past tense," Mofsie says with a laugh. "Our culture is very much alive."

WHEN | WHERE 3 p.m. Saturday, Performing Arts Center Concert Hall, Adelphi University, Garden City. Family workshop starts at 1 p.m.

INFO 516-877-4000,

COST $7-$15 ($10 workshop fee for children; free for adults)