There's something that happens when you know you've done your work well and
created something lovely. That's how it is with Jerome Tsinnajinnie.
He stands out in a crowd - even at a pow wow. The 6 foot tall 25-year-old
is in his prime and he knows how to strike a dignified pose, not to mention
win his share of prizes in northern traditional competitions.
But it's more than his expressionless face and dark chocolate eyes that
makes heads turn when he passes by.
It's the eye for detail that's gone into his regalia. The time spent
lavishly outfitting the young man. The time a family has been willing to
invest in their son, brother, grandson, nephew.
In short, it's a testament to a people who know beauty can't be rushed.
Perhaps it's not surprising, since the Tsinnajinnies are Navajos originally
from the Tuba City area: people steeped in a tradition that reveres beauty,
folks from the Four Corners region who understand that life and the beauty
way only comes on its own terms and in its own time. In the modern
vernacular, people who know that in order to get the good stuff, you've got
to take pains.
The beauty that the family has worked into the lines of Jerome's vest,
choker, bustle and staff is eclectic. Jerome's mother, Juanita, beaded his
initials into the new choker she made for him, and worked a tipi and water
bird onto one side of his vest to represent the Native American Church
background the family shares. Jerome's younger sister, LaDonna, and his
father, Leo, designed the applique for the sleeves of his regalia, and he
carries a Yeibechei shield to honor his Navajo heritage.
Leo Tsinnajinnie also provided the eagle plumes and feathers that grace
Jerome's outfit. "I guess that means the feathers are still his," Jerome
said with a quiet chuckle.
In response to how all the help from his family made him feel, Jerome had
to stop and think before he replied. When he finally spoke, his voice was
soft and low and strong, and had beauty: "It's always been that way for me.
My dad and mom's parents, my grandparents, they've always been there for me
since I was little. I've always had family members around me supporting me,
so I don't know any other way," he said. "It's always been happy in our
little camp, and you just lose yourself. I guess I've just taken it for
Beauty and happiness: they seem to go hand in hand. But there's even beauty
in the black tears Jerome paints on his face when he dances, single
straight lines coming down from his eyes in thick, even lines at right
angles to the wide black swath he paints across his eyes beneath the stark
white paint he applies to his forehead during wintertime to celebrate the
land's becoming white.
The dancer's bustle shows the same loving care and attention to detail.
Jerome made it himself. "I had a bustle and took it apart. I just seen how
it was made, and that the person had made it quick and nobody took their
time with it. So I improved it and then later on I made the one I have
The one he has now is exquisite. Each feather is wrapped so very carefully,
as if Jerome had all the time in the world to wind the threads down around
the shafts of the feathers, one following another just like dancers do in
the Grand Entry.
Indeed, all the preparation and resulting loveliness gives Jerome complete
permission to step out into the arena and dance with abandon. "I've been
dancing since I could walk at 9 months, and even before I was born, my
mother danced when she was carrying me," he said. "I'm always happy when
I'm dancing. It's probably the best time for me. Everything blocks out and
all I hear is the bells and the singing and the drum. It's a really good
Jerome has danced at the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, Ariz. under a
September night sky with the smell of fry-bread in the air and the grass in
the small arena watered and mowed to perfection. "I really like nighttime
dancing in an open arbor when the grass is a little damp. When you're in
the lights like that, it's like there's nobody around: but somewhere out
there you hear the drum group. It's probably the best time for me."
Even when Jerome has to forego the feel of the earth underfoot for the
floor of a gymnasium and its banks of fluorescent lights, he experiences
the power of all the work that went into making his outfit. From the black
deer tracks outlined in white beaded by his mother across his vest to his
father's eagle feathers and beyond, the minutiae of his regalia all
combines into a weighty heft that enables Jerome to dance in ways he
otherwise could not.
"Sometimes you get the spirits and feel all that power that you have from
the eagle feathers and the deer hide and the fringes," he said, "and the
horse hair from the horse and the deer bone in the breast plate and the
ermine skins. You get all that power and you can go for a long time
dancing, even though it seems like just a short time."
So it's dancing in beauty that Jerome Tsinnajinnie does, and it's because
he and his family have taken time to make things nice. "In beauty it is
begun, and in beauty it is finished," goes the Navajo prayer.
May it always be so.