World-class softball competitors from the Czech Republic, Japan, and United States dance with the Chickasaw Nation Dance Troupe during opening ceremonies of 11th Junior Softball World Championship Tournament last Sunday, August 8, 2015.
OKLAHOMA CITY – Jesse Lindsey was stopped short on a trek through the bleachers of the American Softball Association (ASA) Hall of Fame Stadium here Sunday evening.
“I want to thank you and the entire Chickasaw Dance Troupe,” ASA staffer Kaycee Boles said with a huge smile. “It was beautiful and it was so peaceful,” she said. “To share that tradition with the world is important. You shared peace with young ladies from around the world. Thank you,” she repeated.
He knew the dance troupe had, indeed, shared a gift of singing and dancing and acceptance with young woman, aged 19 and under, who have earned a berth to compete for the 11th Junior Softball World Championship over the next six days.
“It is an honor for the Chickasaw Nation to be invited to share our heritage with others. We are honored so many joined us,” he said to Boles.
Lindsey would be stopped three additional times. “Wonderful job,” a man said as he grasped the Chickasaw’s hand for a firm handshake.
“So moving. Thank you,” said another as Lindsey climbed stairs to pick up an official ASA Hall of Fame Complex World Championship schedule. The troupe was staying to watch the United States take on Brazil.
Becoming One from Many
Fluent Chickasaw language speaker and troupe member Joann Ellis opened the pregame ceremonies with prayer delivered with passion and spoken entirely in Chickasaw.
The young competitors understand the value of hearing and speaking one’s own language. Fifteen countries are vying for the world championship. Many different languages were uttered as the teams were introduced and walked the immaculately-groomed playing field to the applause of hundreds of fans.
An unrelenting Oklahoma August sun glistened as the troupe opened with its first “Four Corners” demonstration, dancing as a team to give the audience a sample of the cultural heritage of the Chickasaw people; a culture centuries old.
Then it happened.
Approximately 45 young competitors filed onto the field, joined hands with Chickasaws and competitors alike as Lindsey launched the traditional “Friendship Song.”
Weaving through the infield, circling around the pitcher’s mound, the young ladies kept step with the rhythmic beat of the shell shakers, some singing in answer to Lindsey’s song; others dancing, smiling and fully engaged with Chickasaw and Native Americans they may have only studied in school. For many, it was something they never dreamed they would experience on such a personal level.
Tradition and culture came alive. The smiles were big, the enjoyment immense, the laughing and engagement genuine.
Chickasaws reacted in-kind, encouraging friendship, fellowship, song and dance. Seeing authentic Indian regalia for the first time inspired athletes as they admired the dresses of the shell shakers and the deer hide leggings of the Chickasaw men; the beaded regalia of Chickasaw women.
A haunting Native flute melody of Michael Cornelius, accompanied by the steady drum beat of Jeremy Wallace, closed out the opening ceremonies. For almost 30 minutes Chickasaws were center stage and shared the spotlight with their new friends, pleased so many decided to dance with tribal citizens.
They include athletes from the United States, China, Chinese Taipei, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Columbia, the Czech Republic, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Puerto Rico.
It was clear from the resounding applause of softball fans, the Chickasaw Dance Troupe knocked it out of this world-class ball park.