Watching the dancers perform at Camai, it is easy to think that Yup'ik Eskimo dancing has always enjoyed such practice and popularity.
Camai commemorates and honors "living treasures," those who were responsible for the revival of dance and song in the villages (this year, Tununak Elders Mike and Susie Angaiak) as well as Elders who have passed on.
The first Camai was a small gathering of regional dance groups, organized in 1989 by Bethel resident Teresa John, following a successful dance festival held in the village of St.
Curda likens herself to a conductor, bringing together all the bits and pieces into a glorious and cohesive whole: "Camai is about the collective community....
Camai's budget is about $80,000--the $7 admission has not been raised for nearly ten years--with one-half to two-thirds of the cost going for travel for the performing groups from all over Alaska and beyond.
Past themes for Camai have included Kassiyuq ("An Old-Time Celebration") and Mengyaram Anaanga ("The Song Begins With You").
And masks, which may be the theme of Camai next year, also are surfacing."
The Camai audience response to the group on opening night left no doubt that people enjoyed it.
The Camai stage in the school gym was backed with six large panels decorated with masks and sculptures.
THE DANCE SEEN AT FESTIVALS like Camai is reminiscent but not the equivalent of the traditional recreational and ceremonial dance performed before contact with whites.
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