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Spirit dancer returns: Brings with him lost art of sandpainting

Dennis Rogers is returning to Detroit Lakes this week as part of Native American Heritage Month. Besides his spirit dancing, he will also be giving sandpainting demonstrations. SUBMITTED PHOTO

In honor of National Native American Heritage Month, performer Dennis Rogers will be returning to Detroit Lakes this week — and bringing a new talent to share.

“This year I’m having a very strong anti-bullying message, as well as a self-esteem message, in my program,” he said.

Rogers, who lives in Topeka, Kan., has been to Detroit Lakes and area schools several times, and this year he will be at Detroit Lakes High School Monday and Tuesday, and Pelican Rapids School Wednesday and Thursday before he heads to the Twin Cities for more performances.

Though he’s done his spirit dance performance in the past, this year he’s bringing a new addition to his program.

“What’s different this year versus last year, I’ll be doing traditional Navajo sandpainting.”

The process is done all by hand. He said it’s done for ceremonial healing, but he just demonstrates the art form since there is no ceremonies during his school visits.

“I use sandstones that are natural colors that I gather near the Painted Desert in Arizona. I grind them down to make a powder, and with that powder, I take pinches of that colored sand and drop it on a layer of smooth white sand and I create pictures,” he said.

“It’s all by hand, without even touching it.”

He’s the only one of eight siblings in his family that learned to do the sandpaintings. He learned from his father.

He started in 1987 after just watching his father work his craft. When he retired, his father passed along all of his sand painting equipment, not telling Rogers to learn the trade, but just knowing he would take over the art form.

“Maybe he saw more in me than I thought I possessed,” he said.

The sandpainting takes about two hours to create. At the schools, he said, students will be rotating through every 20 minutes or so while he’s creating it. Once it’s completed, the first groups of kids can come back to see the finished product.

“I’m quite positive this will be the first time anyone in that area of Minnesota has ever seen this kind of art form. It’s pretty rare, even in my own tribe.”

While in the Cities, Rogers will be the opening act for the country music group Black Hawk, who he has performed with many times in the past.

“This (week) encompasses a combination of visual arts, performing arts and opening up a country music event.”

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.