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Jackie Bird brings unique performance to DSU

This traditional hoop dance is usually performed by men in her community, but Bird received special permission to perform it. (Grady McGregor / The Dickinson Press)1 / 4
Bird performing a traditional hoop dance at DSU's student center ballroom. (Grady McGregor / The Dickinson Press)2 / 4
Puppets grandma Wildflower and grandpa Jake sang and bantered with each other. (Grady McGregor / The Dickinson Press)3 / 4
Bird and her son Gordon playing the song Lovesick Blues. (Grady McGregor / The Dickinson Press)4 / 4

It was impossible not to smile during Jackie Bird's performance at Dickinson State University's student center on Wednesday evening.

Bird performed with her son Gordon Bird II, who she affectionately called "big boy." The performance, which included dancing, singing and even ventriloquism, blended practices from Bird's Mandan-Hidatsa and Sisseton-Wahpeton heritage.

"We like to sing songs on the guitar and the ukulele in the beginning, bring out my mom's two puppets, grandma Wildflower and grandpa Jake," Bird II said after the show. "And we also like to hoop dance at the end, along with as much crowd interaction as we can get."

Bird's infectious positivity and curiosity ensured that each audience member was not only watching the show, but actively part of it. She peppered the audience with questions throughout the show, asking them to share their own stories with the room and join her and her son on stage to perform.

"Each audience becomes like artwork to me, and I make sure that everyone's hearts are connected," she said.

The show began with Bird singing a few songs on her guitar while Bird II playing drums beside her. One song, Lovesick Blues, mixed a bluesy beat and lyrics with traditional Native American chanting she had learned growing up. Bird II later sang a few of his own songs with a similar distinctive blend of contemporary and native characteristics.

"We like to integrate a lot of contemporary elements. ... It's kind of a blend of cultures so people can have one foot in that world, while we have one foot in the other," Bird said. "It enhances communication, and communication is the key to making all of that work, otherwise everything kind of gets lost in translation."

The Grandma Wildflower and Grandpa Jake puppets made appearances after the songs, loosening up the crowd as Wildflower comically crooned Whitney Houston songs to Jake.

"(Bird) was really friendly, really engaging with the crowd and everything," audience member Neville Chitiyo said. "Everybody kind of got in the performance ... the music was good, and we learned a little more about her culture."

Bird then went around the room, asking each audience member about their own backgrounds and experiences.

"I loved the multicultural diversity (of the crowd), it was neat to speak with all of the different people," she said after the show.

She also took questions from the crowd. One audience member asked about what misperceptions people have about native communities in the United States.

"By watching all mass media, they put us like we are a defeated race and people, they bring up the alcoholism and issues like that's all we are," she responded. "The way I see our people is that we have many colors, songs and many ways to get through life ... I like to set a good example."

Bird II added he wants people to understand that native communities have dynamic, ever-evolving cultures.

"Our culture is evolving and starting to bleed into other cultures," he said. "It's really good for all of us to talk to the elders and learn about our old ways, and integrate it into technology and things we are doing today to keep it living strong."

The show was capped off by Bird's hoop dance performance. She said that the dance was traditionally performed by males in her community but she got the blessing from her grandmother to perform it.

Bird first laid out blue, red, yellow, white and green hoops around the ballroom and asked audience members to sit alongside them on stage. She helped the audience members transform the hoops into ball like shapes and even had a DSU student from the crowd turn green hoops into wings and act like he was flying around the stage. With her son beating drums and chanting in the background, Bird then skillfully manipulated the hoops into various objects and shapes while dancing around the stage.

Most of all Bird wanted to ensure that she connected with every single member of the audience.

"I can read body language, two gentlemen, the football players, did not want to take anything in (at the beginning), they had their arms crossed," she said. "By the time I brought in the puppets their defense wasn't there anymore and then all of a sudden we were all connected ... if I can make the cool one smile, we're doing good"

Grady McGregor

Grady McGregor is a city and state politics reporter for The Dickinson Press. He joined The Press in July 2017.

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