Message of 'The River Gives Life' told through dance

Message of ‘The River Gives Life’ told through dance

National Dance Institute New Mexico teamed up with Lightning Boy Foundation to create the short film, “The River Gives Life.” (Courtesy of NDI New Mexico)

Being involved in the arts can enrich the lives of youths.

This is the message behind the short film “The River Gives Life.”

The film is the result of a collaboration between National Dance Institute New Mexico and the Lightning Boy Foundation.

NDI New Mexico serves more than 7,500 youth across the state through its dance-based programs in partnership with public elementary schools, as well as after-school classes for students ages 3-18 at The Dance Barns in Santa Fe and The Hiland Theater in Albuquerque.

The Lightning Boy Foundation was established in honor of Valentino “Lightning Boy” Rivera, a uniquely gifted boy from the Pueblo of Pojoaque who tragically died in 2016 at the age of eight. Valentino participated in traditional Buffalo dances and traveled the world sharing Native American hoop dance.

The project – which began in January – is intended to showcase the creativity and talent of local youth and celebrate the rich cultural heritage and landscapes of northern New Mexico.

Steve LaRance, co-chair of Lightning Boy Foundation Board of Directors, said during the process NDI New Mexico students learned the symbolism and significance of hoop dancing, as well as the traditional pow wow dance steps that were the foundation of the choreography.

Lightning Boy Foundation students in turn gained experience incorporating their traditional hoop dancing with performance styles and elements from NDI New Mexico programs, in addition to performing together on stage at The Dance Barns.

“Our hope is that people view this film and appreciate the amazing spirit of the young people and the message they deliver through their performance,” he said. “It has been deeply gratifying to watch the students learn from each other, laugh with each other, and embrace new forms of creative and cultural expression together.”

The artistic directors for both organizations began working on the collaborative performance piece.

The musical score is composed by Edwin Felter, a former NDI New Mexico dancer and a key member of Lightning Boy Foundation’s creative team.

Felter, a member of Nambé Pueblo, composed and recorded the score in his native language of Tewa.

ShanDien Sonwai LaRance (Hopi-Tewa) was the artistic director representing Lightning Boy Foundation and helped choreograph the live performances, as well as the short film.

The entire team came together over a weekend in June to film the piece in an arroyo nestled in the foothills north of Santa Fe. The NDI New Mexico dancers represented the river’s path through the land, while the Lightning Boy Foundation dancers embodied the spirits of the creatures that inhabit the land. The dance culminated with all the dancers joining together in a circle, like the hoop, symbolizing humanity’s reliance on rivers as a source of life.

“This was a wonderful creative partnership and an extraordinary learning opportunity in so many ways,” said Liz Salganek, NDI New Mexico artistic director. “The two organizations really became one team as we moved through the initial creative process to rehearsals to the actual filming of ‘The River Gives Life.’ The students helped each other produce a unique and original piece of art that highlights their talents and potential, as well as the unique region in which they live.”

The project was sponsored by a grant from the Santa Fe Arts and Culture Department and is available by visiting and

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