Rev. Mickelson: Dancing with the Spirit announces virtual curriculum

Yakutat kindergarteners stand with Belle and Mike Mickelson in front of an eagle carved by Fred Bemis. One of the new song videos features these students. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Belle Mickelson

Dancing with the Spirit, our village school music program, has a new virtual music curriculum! Go to dancingwiththespirit.org and download Volume 1 that includes 27 song videos plus 29 fiddle and tuning videos — and song words, colored chords and fiddle tab (be sure to use a color printer). The song words are searchable — so after you download them to your computer or iPad — just click on the name of the song and you’ll go right to the song words. In addition to individual song videos by Dancing with the Spirit staff — there is a short video clip of Yakutat kindergartens playing ukuleles and loudly singing “Johnny B. Goode” with Mike Mickelson on electric guitar — and the audience treating the students like rock stars! Another video shows Port Alexander kids singing “Deep Fishin’ Blues,” a take on “Deep River Blues” which another video shows being played on stage by the Bearfoot Band with Mike Mickelson singing lead. Other Cordovans in the video are Annie Carlson singing All God’s Critters and Jessica and Ria Smyke singing “Viruses,” a parody of “Riptide.” Other videos feature elders from Arctic Village, Eagle, Galena and Anvik singing in their own languages.

Dancing with the Spirit is program based on the 26-year-old Cordova 4H Music Camp. We got the idea for this week of summer music and fun — from the Anchorage Alaska City Folk Arts Camp which Mary Shallert started a year earlier. At the music camps, students sign up for three classes and a band class — plus they have a chance to square dance, jam, and perform. Younger kids (ages 6-8 years) here in Cordova can participate in Hawaiian Camp with Hawaiian instructors who teach ukulele, hula, arts and crafts, and Hawaiian culture and language. The first traveling music camps were organized by the Bearfoot Bluegrass band who started taking tubs of guitars, fiddles, mandolins and banjos all over the United States, Canada, and Europe — and doing 3-4 day kids’ camps after weekend arts council concerts. The Bearfoot Band began in 1999 when they were ages 14-17 and counselors at our Cordova 4H Music Camp. They won the Telluride Festival Band Competition and went on to record 5 CD’s with an agent and a Compass Record recording contract. Their fourth CD was No. 1 on the Billboard National Bluegrass chart. All the Bearfoot Band members are still playing and teaching music!

CT 11-13 commentary mickelson 2.jpg These students in Shageluk are some of the ones most excited about our new music curriculum. They are playing guitar with instructors Belle, Josephine Malemute (our assistant director), and Ethan Paul, a young musician from Holycross. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Belle Mickelson

Dancing with the Spirit started in 2006 — as way to prevent village drug and alcohol addictions and suicide — by connecting students with elders through music. The program has traveled to 55 villages — most of them many times. And in the two and a half years pre-pandemic — we spent 92 weeks in village schools with a primarily Native staff. We generally arrive in villages with a plane load of instruments — and spend the week teaching guitar, fiddle, singing and dancing — and inviting elders into the school to share their language and wisdom. We also talk to students about making healthy choices. In our initial years, we were so busy traveling — that we didn’t have much time to work on curriculum. So we’re really excited about this new curriculum — and the chance to encourage local musicians — both students and adults — from a distance! 

Look forward to future volumes of song and dance videos that will be coming out in the next few months — including Cordova 4H and holiday song videos. We are anxious to have Cordovans test these materials — so let us know if they work for you. And Cordova 4H has instruments to loan. Call Belle Mickelson at 424-5143 or Kim Menster at 253-5223 if you would like to borrow an instrument and tuner. We also have some Cordova 4H Curriculum materials.


The Rev. Belle Mickelson is the priest at St. George’s Episcopal (cordovaepiscopal.org and reddragoncordova.org) and director of Dancing with the Spirit, a program to teach guitar and fiddle in the villages (dancingwiththespirit.org).