Youngsters Perform Northwest Coast Dances

Youngsters Perform Northwest Coast Dances
by Pat Nelson
While other kids are riding bikes and playing games with their Xboxes, Mara Reese, 11, and her brother Isaac Reese, 9, are busy performing Northwest Coast dances at the Lelooska Cultural Center at Ariel, 14 miles east of Woodland. Both have been doing this their whole lives, starting as babes in arms. They began dancing as soon as they could walk.
The Lelooska Cultural Center performs both daytime school programs and evening public performances. The Reese kids participated in both until they were old enough to attend kindergarten at Yale Elementary School. Once they started school, they still danced in the evening programs and an occasional school program.
My husband and I were present when Mara, then only 3 years old, performed her first dance as Young Raven, becoming Lelooska Cultural Center’s youngest masked dancer. She was accompanied by her grandmother, the late Julia Hart Stoll. We held our breath as Mara entered the cedar ceremonial house; we wondered if she would be frightened. She may have been nervous, but she made every step and turn exactly as she had been taught, circling the warm fire burning in the center of the room.
Brother Isaac participated in programs and began his masked dance in May of 2012 wearing a Young Raven mask. That month, he and Mara debuted the Puffin masks, and Mara wore a Wolf mask. The masks were carved by their grandpa, Chief Tsungani.
This fall, Mara attends the Lewis River Academy, Woodland’s alternative online education program. This flexible program allows her to dance in the daytime school performances as well as the evening performances.
Bukwus, the wild man of the woods, is back in the program for the first time in many years. Bukwus searches the floor for clams buried in the sand and upon finding one squirting from the ground, Mara turns away and returns with her own hand-carved version to squirt at the audience. Her mother, Mariah Reese, says Mara really enjoys getting into character. She will dance as Raven, Wolf, and Bukwus for the school programs and will add Puffin for the evening programs. Isaac will dance as Raven and Puffin at the evening programs. “I am excited about dancing Bukwus,” said Mara, “because it’s fun and I like the dance and the mask.”
Mara and Isaac, along with good friend Haylee Kelley, also help as attendants or “sweepers,” shaking rattles during some performances and being among those searching for the headdress dancer when she is chased from the ceremonial house as part of the program.
This fall’s evening performances are October 19, November 9 and November 30 at 7 p.m. Admission is $12 per person, $8 for children 12 and under.
Whenever I visit the Lelooska Cultural Center, I spend a lot of time browsing the museum’s immense exhibit of artifacts. There is always something new in this extensive collection. The museum’s Open House will be Saturday and Sunday November 23 and 24 from 1-5 p.m. and will feature hands-on activities for kids.
For more information on the Lelooska Cultural Center, like its Facebook page: Lelooska Foundation & Cultural Center or visit For reservations, call 360 225-9522.

Photo of Chief Tusangani with Isaac and Mara Reese: Copyright Lelooska Foundation, Photo by Becca Olmsted Photography, printed with permission of Lelooska Foundation.

Pat Nelson's bio:
Pat Nelson, writer and editor, is co-creator of three humorous and sometimes edgy anthologies: “Not Your Mother’s Book: On Being a Parent (available at www.Amazon.comand wherever books are sold); On Being a Grandparent; and On Working for a Living (both still accepting stories at Nelson blogs at www.Storystorm.USand her stories appear at