Fontenelle Family Dance Group at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

One of several murals in the courtyard of IPCS (Photo by Valerie Noel)

From our table on the patio of Sixty-Six Acres — one of our very favorite Albuquerque restaurants — we can view a Sante Fe-style structure that sits very much like a Spanish mission across 12th St NW. This is the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (Photo by Valerie Noel)

Two flags hang to the left of the door: the flag of the United States of America and the flag of New Mexico. Below the flags is a sculpture depicting an Indian brave, and a Native American U.S. Army soldier. We recall the selfless sacrifices made by Native American soldiers to the U.S. Armed Forces throughout our history.

Statue of two Indian warriors (Photo by Valerie Noel)

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center (IPCC) is a museum and cultural center located just north of Downtown Albuquerque. Its permanent exhibit, “We Are of This Place: The Pueblo Story” depicts the shared yet diverse cultures of the 19 Pueblo tribes of New Mexico. The Center is a circle of connected buildings surrounding a large courtyard — a venue for music, dance and art. Here is where we experienced the Fontenelle Family Dance Group.  

Shelley Morningsong Fontenele is of Dutch and North Cheyenne heritage. She is a singer, composer, and musician. Her primary instrument is a hand-carved, wooden flute, the tone of which would be familiar to anyone who has ever listened to traditional Native American music. Fabian Fontenelle is Shelley’s husband, and is of Zuni and Omaha descent. Fabian dresses in Omaha-style garb and face paint, and is a dancer, as well as an educator.

Close-up of dance steps of Fabian Fontenelle (Photo by Valerie Noel)

Shelley and Fabian perform at many different venues, so their appearance here at IPCC is a brief one, albeit periodically recurring. As the crowd gathers, the sun breaks through an otherwise overcast sky — it has been raining all morning — and a sizable throng of spectators meander out from the surrounding buildings. They fill in the seats all around the performance ring as Fabian does some last minute mic checks and makes minor adjustments to his garb. After brief introductions, we are treated to a selection of Native American music, song and dance in the styles of several Indian tribes.

The “double beat crow hop” demonstrates both the intricacies of the rhythms and the homage paid to birds and animals, imitating their movement and mannerisms, not only in the steps but in the subtle turns of the dancer’s head. The “sneak up” is a product of the Dakota, Lakota and Nakota — all Sioux tribes — and represents the warriors’ practice of gradually sneaking deeper and deeper into the confusion of the battle in order to retrieve their wounded brethren.

Close-up of face paint worn by Fabian Fontenelle (Photo by Valerie Noel)

Behind the traditional war paint that literally “colors” his face with a somewhat stoical demeanor, Fabian is bitingly humorous, and has an impish penchant for poking harmless fun at himself and at his audience. After leading several dozen participating spectators in a “round dance” several times around the arena in a serpentine pattern, he sends everybody back to their seats and says “and I have a word for those of you who did not get up and dance”. At which point he shoves his thumbs under his armpits, flaps his elbows up and down, and clucks like a chicken.

Despite this bit of frivolity, all of the music performed by the Fontenelle Family is traditional in style. Everything has some historical or cultural context, or is based on traditional stories. Fabian precedes each dance with an appropriate introduction. Similarly, Shelley’s original pieces all pay tribute to the deep spirituality of their peoples.

Fabian Fontenelle – traditional dancer (Photo by Valerie Noel)
About Joe Gruberman 10 Articles
I'm a writer/producer/filmmaker/teacher based in Phoenix, AZ.

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