Skip to main content

Documentary looks at traditional dance as way to fight vicious addictions

  • Author:
  • Updated:

By Staci Matlock -- The Santa Fe New Mexican

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Dancing for health, for love, for life.

Those are reasons Pueblo people have danced for more than 1,000 years, and Andrew Garcia hopes to help a few more generations carry on the tradition.

For more than 30 years, he has led his family and other Ohkay Owingeh youth in the dances of his forebears as part of the Tewa Dancers and Singers from the North.

Garcia battled back from alcoholism to find comfort in the songs and dances. And he is working to pass along their message of prayer and hope to his pueblo and the rest of the world.

More than seven years ago, with permission from the Ohkay Owingeh Tribal Council, Garcia teamed with dance critic Marilyn Hunt to document traditional Tewa dances on film.

Their documentary, ''Dancing from the Heart: Journey of a Pueblo Dance Family,'' was showcased recently at an Oklahoma film festival. The film has won first place at the ReelHeaART Film Festival in Toronto and was screened at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York.

The documentary, the first for Garcia and Hunt, takes viewers inside the better-known Pueblo dances such as the Eagle, Buffalo and Butterfly dances. The 45-minute documentary intersperses narration from Garcia on what he hoped to accomplish with the dance group and interviews with youth as they prepare to dance.

It shows Garcia teaching an international group of students basic Ohkay Owingeh dance moves during a class he taught at the University of New Mexico.

The documentary is considered groundbreaking, not only for its portrayal of traditional dances, but for its delicate touch on sensitive issues such as alcoholism and the sometimes difficult relationships between fathers and sons.

''Our people are very secretive on things that go on in the community, like dances,'' Garcia said. ''I wanted to involve young people in the dance program because there were not too many things ... happening in the community, and the children needed something to keep them busy.''

Scroll to Continue

Read More

Garcia said he lost three younger brothers to alcoholism, and almost lost his own life to the disease in 1968.

In the film, he talks about his struggles and how it led to creating the dance group.

He, his children and other youth began performing traditional dances at local hospitals and senior centers and during traditional feast days. Since then, they have performed across the United States and in several other countries including India, Spain, Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

''I wanted to bring a cultural awareness to the public, that way they can better understand some of the things that take place in the Pueblo world, what dance represents to Pueblo people,'' he said.

At his UNM class, Garcia met Hunt and they embarked on the documentary. ''It worked beautifully,'' Garcia said.

Hunt worked as a dance critic and feature writer for Dance Magazine. She and Garcia decided a film was a way to educate people about the heart and soul of Pueblo dance. ''Over the period of about seven years, we got some wonderful footage,'' Hunt said.

She began traveling with the Tewa Dancers, filming at places such as Colorado's Chimney Rock, where the group danced in an ancient kiva.

''I was doing [the film] on a shoestring,'' Hunt said. ''I was doing most of the filming and the sound, and I didn't realize how challenging that would be, but participants were all patient and great.''

Garcia's parts are unscripted. ''It was just the result of us chatting and sharing,'' Hunt said.

The film was edited by Emmy Award-winning editor Girish Bhargava.

Early screenings of the documentary at the pueblo have been well-received, Hunt said.

''It conveys aspects of Pueblo culture both to people who have previous experience and gone to dances, and for people who haven't had an opportunity to go,'' she said.