An uplifting message for all ages
Though he sings, plays the flute, dances and has an award-winning hoops performance, Dennis Rogers says it's more than entertainment.
"I'm not an actor, I'm not a choreographer, and I'm not an entertainer. I'm an educator," he said. "When I dance, I want to educate people, Native and non-Native, and I want to touch them in a spiritual way, but from the stage."
Rogers will be bringing his educational show to both the Detroit Lakes schools and the Holmes Theatre this week as part of National Native American Heritage Month. He will perform for students on Wednesday and Thursday, and for the general public on Thursday evening, free of charge.
Rogers, who lives in Tokepa, Kan., is a substitute teacher and was once an Indian Education coordinator in Topeka. But he certainly knows the Detroit Lakes area, because he has performed here many times.
"When I was director of Indian Ed, I saw we needed people we could call upon to come in and help share with the children their tribal traditions, stories, dances, so forth," he said.
He found it difficult to find people with the knowledge though to come in and talk to the students. So, he put together his own program and performance. He's been performing for the last 22 years.
During the summers, he does more of the festivals, town celebrations and casinos, and then during the school year, he concentrates more on school assemblies.
When he's in the schools, besides the Indian education aspect of the performance, he also brings an anti-bullying message.
He plays native flute, sings, does interpretive dances and performs an award-winning hoop dance.
"The interpretive dances are all in English so everyone in the audience will understand them," Rogers said.
He has performed with the band Black Hawk many times, and he also performed at WE Fest.
Rogers has been performing in this area quite a bit since his fiancée lives in Fergus Falls and works at Sunnyside in Lake Park. He plans to relocate to this area at some point.
He said that during some of his initial visits to this area, he made some connections and tried to show how beneficial his performance would be here as it is in Kansas.
"I had just assumed there was somebody up there doing something similar," he said. "I'm finding out, there really isn't."
His hoop show is one to amaze anyone, both in performance and in meaning.
"Each hoop can represent a challenge in life so you keep accepting these challenges and adapt and persevere and create all these beautiful elements of nature."
While his daytime performances Wednesday and Thursday are geared more toward students, the evening presentation will be for both adults and students.
"It's about being grateful for where we're at, at this point in our lives because a lot of people don't make it this far."
Rogers attended the only inter-tribal college in the United States, Haskell Indian Nations University, in Lawrence, Kansas. It was there that he renewed his desire to dance.
"I got drawn back in to wanting to dance. And I've always been kind of hyperactive," he said.
"This was back in the '80s so I had a mullet and mustache," Rogers said with a laugh. "I had this hodge-podge outfit -- slippers and jingle bells. It was a mismatch all the way. But, I had the guts to get out there and dance, to learn."
He said there were people who laughed at him, and there were people who encouraged him.
"Who do you want to listen to as you go through life, people who are going to encourage you or people who are going to laugh and make fun of you?" he said. "You want to listen to both, because when people tell you that you can't do something, that gives you more desire to do something to prove somebody wrong.
"Those same people who used to laugh at me now ask if they can carry my suitcases."
Rogers has seen his popularity continue to grow, touring throughout the United States, Mexico, England, Japan and Canada.
"I'm trying to show, especially Native students, that you can still dance and make a living at it and not just dance at powwows and in your classrooms. You can be out there on the stage with the musicians that you idolize and keep it cultural, traditional, spiritual, respectful, educational, environmental. You can have an impact on people without even a word.
"It's a powerful thing we're doing."
Schedule of performances
Wednesday, Nov. 14
8:20-9:20 a.m. -- 7-8 graders in the MS Auditorium
1:20-2 p.m. -- Roosevelt 3rd graders, MS Auditorium
2:10-3:20 p.m. -- MS 6th graders, MS Auditorium
Thursday, Nov. 15
9:15 a.m. -- Rossman 4-5 graders, Rossman Gym
1-1:45 p.m. -- ALC at the Holmes Theater
7 p.m. -- Holmes Theater, which will be free and open to the public
Self-made artist Gus Claymore will also be giving a presentation at the Detroit Lakes High School for the art department students on Nov. 15-16. He will also be demonstrating his work at the Holmes Art Show on Nov. 15 from 5-7 p.m. in the Ballroom.
Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.