by Sharon H Chang
Sunday at Seattle Center, Northwest Folklife took a different approach to their fourth annual Seattle Children’s Festival. Rather than presenting a handful of cultural groups onstage, as in the past, this year the festival engaged children and families in a celebration of “Our Big Neighborhood.”
Through a variety of educational and interactive programs, local artists, performers, storytellers, dancers, and even chefs came together to showcase the communities and cultures that make up our region.
Aleksa Manila reading My Princess Boy at Drag Queen Storytime. Born and raised in Manila, Philippines, Aleksa–who now calls Seattle home–is an esteemed local drag personality frequently appearing at events as host, speaker, performer, model and more. She was the 2014 Grand Marshal at the 40th Seattle Pride Parade alongside George Takei. Professionally, she is the Program Coordinator of Project NEON and Program Supervisor of Addiction Services at Seattle Counseling Service.
Bulgarian children’s group Medena Pitka jump, kick and dance as traditional musicians accompany upon the Armory main stage. Medena Pitka, meaning “honey bread,” is a Bellevue-based program that introduces children to Bulgarian traditional folklore through interweaving knowledge of traditional rituals and celebrations with practical knowledge of Bulgarian proverbial lyrics, rhythms, songs and dance.
International Capoeira Foundation (ICAF) performs and teaches festival attendees in the Fisher Pavilion. Based in the International District, ICAF is committed to the cultivation, preservation, and growth of African Brazilian cultural art form Capoeira Angola. The group’s goal is “the creation of a strong and vibrant community committed to social transformation through empowering individuals to overcome both self and societally imposed limitations.”
Mako and Munjuri, wearing Okinawan kimonos, share language and dances of Okinawa while playing traditional instruments. The sanshin, symbolizing the earth, is a three-stringed fretless lute covered with snake skin. The Okinawan taiko drum set (not pictured) includes the oodaiko, a big, low-pitched drum, and shime’daiko, smaller, high-pitched drums. Mako and Manjuri work to preserve the Okinawan language, which is endangered, and to inspire and empower young Okinawans to explore their culture and community.
Youth of Folklore Mexicano Tonantzin perform traditional dances of Mexico in a swirl of color and spirited energy on the Armory stage. The nonprofit group strives to inspire healthy, happy, purposeful children and teens through dancing folklore while building teamwork, leadership skills, public speaking, community exposure and awareness.
Performing artist, teaching artist, and entrepreneur Sumayya E. Diop teaches African dance and drum in the Armory lofts. Trained by “Jali” of West Africa and professional artists of all disciplines, Diop has been performing and educating in Seattle for over ten years. She has worked with Arts Corps, The Nature Consortium, Spectrum Dance Theatre, Living Voices, and many others.
Arpan Arts young women perform traditional Indian dance in the Armory. Arpan is a Redmond-based performing arts organization dedicated to promoting Folk and Classical traditions of India including dance, music, folklore, traditions and values. Arpan in Sanskrit means “to present or to offer in dedication.”
Two dancers from Filipinas Performing Arts of Washington State (FPAW) share their heritage through movement upon the Armory floor. Founded in 1993 under the direction of dancer/choreographer Juliet Omli-Cawas (pictured in green), FPAW is a nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and perform the way of life of the Filipino people and to foster love of Filipino culture in Filipino-American youth.
Students of Northwest Tap Connection move joyously and spiritedly with Melba Ayco, founder and Artistic Director, in the Fisher Pavilion. Northwest Tap Connection is a race and social justice oriented dance studio in South Seattle specializing in Rhythm Tap. Students travel and perform across the United States and have even danced with tap legends such as the late Gregory Hines, the late Nicholas Brothers, the late Buster Brown, Savion Glover, Jeni LeGon and Jimmy Slyde.
Sharon H. Chang is an activist, photographer and award-winning writer. She is author of the acclaimed book Raising Mixed Race (2016) and is currently working on her second book looking at Asian American women and gendered racism.