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Dancers Participate In Celebration

By Vida Volkert

FORT LAUDERDALE - With captivating grace tribal members William Osceola, William Cypress and Tifani Doctor and the rest of the Thunder Hill Dance Troop rumbled at the Martin Luther King Jr. tribute Jan. 18.

Ever since 1996, the Martin Luther King Jr. Tribute of Broward County, Inc., has been celebrating the life of the famed minister and civil rights advocate.

This year the tribute was celebrated at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and featured Seminole Tribal members who opened the program for an audience of around 2,500 people with the magical rituals of the Grass Dance and other Native American dances.

"Although the Grass Dance's dancers follow certain rules and the rhythm of the drums, each performer has his or her own personal style, producing a free form of expression," said William Osceola, a 14 year-old Seminole Tribal member and a leading dancer of the Thunder Hill Dance Troop.

"We dance following our instincts but keeping in beat with the drum," the freshman at American Heritage High School added, stating that he started dancing after being encouraged by his mother, Peggy Osceola.

Four years ago, mother and son started the Thunder Hill Dance Troop, whose members variety in heritage and range in age from 12 to 30. The current roster of dancers are Janice Holata and Lance Culley, whose heritage is Oklahoma Seminole Creek; Seminole Tribal member Tifani Doctor; Cherokee Tribal members Kevin, Kenny and Kyle Moore; and Cherokee Tribal member Chad Fernandez.

For the Martin Luther King performance, 28 year-old William Cypress, a Florida Seminole and 16 year-old Rain Harrell, whose heritage is Oklahoma Seminole, Creek/Ponca/Pawnee, joined the Thunder Hill Dance Troop at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

"I volunteered to dance this year because it was for a good cause," said Cypress, adding that like Rev. King preached, he celebrates cultural diversity and racial unification.

Cypress, who also works as an attendant at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, said that Native Americans started the Grass Dance - also known as the Inter Tribal Dance - to help integrate the different Tribes of North America.

"Although the dance had evolved throughout the years, it is still a multi-tribal dance, where different tribal members come together and dance together," Cypress said. "It's a way that different tribes with different cultures and backgrounds can still communicate with one another in a different format. We merge with one another through the dance."

Guithele M. Ruiz, chair of the Martin Luther King Jr. tribute committee, said that the audience, which ranged from middle school students to Broward County commissioners, enjoyed the variety of the program and were fascinated by the Native American rituals. Ruiz also thanked the Thunder Hill Dance Troop for participating and sharing the traditions of their legacy with the community.

"It gave me a great feeling to showcase the Native American group as a contributing group to our community," Ruiz said adding that reaching the youth through the youth was the purpose of this years' celebration and that the young Tribal members did contribute plentifully.

"We are looking forward to continue working, closely, with Tribal members," she said. Sherman Mosely, Community Relations Coordinator for the Human Rights Division of the Broward County Commission, also expressed his gratitude toward the Tribal dancers and drummers and said that cultural unification was the essence of the future.

William Osceola said that dancing in front of a packed auditorium was a great experience but that the message behind the thumbing drums and the colorful regalia the Thunder Hill Dance Troop use during their presentations is more significant than just entertaining the audience.

"I dance because I have fun dancing," William said. "But, my ultimate goal as a dancer is to educate the non-Indian world and inform the community that although most Native Americans are integrated to society, we preserve our cultural identity."

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