Mt. Edgecumbe's Yupik Dancers on the main stage at the Western Experience in Den Bosch, The Netherlands. (Photo courtesy MEHS)

Some students at Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka recently went on a field trip – the kind of field trip we all might like to take, if we didn’t mind dancing in front of thousands of people. Eight members of the school’s Yup’ik dance ensemble traveled to the Netherlands in January to perform at a cultural festival. And on their way home, they stopped in Rotterdam and Paris to hold workshops on traditional Yup’ik dance.

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“At first I was really nervous, until the first three songs. Then I started to get used to it,” says Corey Meyers, a senior at Mt. Edgecumbe from Pilot Station. The “Western Experience” is an annual festival in Den Bosch, Netherlands, celebrating the American West. Native American dance is a huge part of the festival.

Den Bosch is a long way from dancing in the Alaska Day parade in Sitka. Cecelia Chikigak is a senior from Alakanuk. She also had some butterflies.

“I was really nervous the first time. I couldn’t believe how big the crowd was. But then after a while, I got used to it. And knowing that they’d never seen us dance before made me brave.”

The Mt. Edgecumbe students danced in front of about 15,000 people over the course of nine days in late January and early February. Besides the Den Bosch festival, they performed in Rotterdam and held a workshop at a dance school there.

Then it was on to Paris, to hold workshops at the Lycee Racine and the Lycee Brassens, two well-known dance academies.

Baxter Bond, a senior from Tununak, was the group’s spokesman, introducing the dances and Yup’ik culture to people from vastly different cultures.

“I think it shows how unique we are. There are about 20,000 Yup’ik people in Alaska. And for the people in Europe, it showed a different culture of a faraway place.”

The students say that many in their audience expressed interest in continuing the cultural dialog that began in this trip. It’s possible that dancers from the European schools may do a reciprocal visit to Alaska in the future.

These students – all seniors – won’t be at Mt. Edgecumbe if that happens, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be dancing. Cecelia Chikigak says it’s a lifelong tradition.

“I started dancing as a little girl and will continue to do so. I dance mostly at home.”

And Corey Meyers is also embracing a tradition.

“I also drum back at home. I’m one of the youngest drummers. I drum with my uncle. I’m not going to quit it.”

The Yup’ik Dancers’ European tour was sponsored in large part by the Calista Corporation, with additional help from several Sitka businesses (First Bank, Sitka CHARR, Sitka Sound Seafoods, The Monthly Grind, ALPS Federal Credit Union, Harry Race Pharmacy).

The dancers say underclassmen returning to the group next year might consider trips to Australia, Spain, or Mexico, to share Yup’ik dance with other indigenous cultures around the world.