Aztec drums pounded out forceful dance rhythms Nov. 18 on the University of North Georgia's (UNG) Dahlonega and Gainesville campuses in celebration of Native American Heritage Month.
Group leader Javier Alfalo of Chicahua Yolotli and the Aztec dance troupe helped UNG students, faculty and staff learn about Aztec culture through dance demonstrations and explanations of the movements and regalia. The dance group travels throughout the Southeast to perform, and follows the example set by the original Aztec dance movement that emerged in the U.S. in the 1970s.
"I am grateful for the chance to perform at a military college, because traditional Aztec dance follows a military structure," Alfalo said. "Dance groups have a general, or 'jefe,' as well as captains and lieutenants and other ranks. When they start out, dancers must earn their regalia, such as rattles and feathers, by learning dances and carrying out other tasks, like carrying a banner while dancing."
Alfalo said one reason he enjoys talking to college students is because of the opportunity to demonstrate how they can stay true to their culture while leading successful professional lives. Part of the group's presentation centers on how the Aztec culture and belief structures have changed — and in some cases, how they have not — over the years. Alfalo said that talking about how he balances his secular and spiritual roads is an important part of showing students how they can celebrate their own cultures.
"I am a marketing professional as well as a dancer," Alfalo said.
The event was sponsored by UNG's Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (MSA), which offers a variety of services, including: presentations about diversity, identity development, race, gender, and multicultural issues; one-on-one student advisement on academic and personal issues; leadership development; assisting faculty and staff with diversity concerns within their departments; and cultural awareness activities.
This past year to honor Native American Heritage Month, Dr. Monika Ponton-Arrington, executive liaison of Indigenous Affairs-North American Division for the Interfaith Peace-Building Initiative to the United Nations in New York and a descendant of the Taíno culture, spoke to students about Columbus and the conquistadors, and the progression of Native American culture in the U.S.
MSA also supports programs dedicated to events and initiatives that recognize minority groups, such as Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Black History Month, and Women's History Month, among others.