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'Dahayóígíí' art event returns to Shiprock to help youth improve their artistic skills and learn about traditional Navajo art forms

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SHIPROCK — Tables that displayed artwork ranging from paintings to sculptures filled the lobby of the Phil L. Thomas Performing Arts Center last week.

The pieces were created during "Dahayóígíí: A Cultural Youth Art Event," which concluded its third year on Friday. The free program helps youth discover, strengthen and learn creative skills from renowned artists during three days of classes.

Students enrolled in classes that focused on traditional Navajo art forms, including painting, sculpture, rug weaving, basketry, sandpainting, jewelry, pottery, beading and performing arts.

Classes took place at the Shiprock Youth Complex, and the program relocated on Friday to the performing arts center, where an art show and talent show was held.

Amari Jones had four paintings — depicting a bracelet, a child, a dancer and a message of love — displayed in the art show. The images were eye-catching because of their attention to detail and the subject matter.

"I thought it needed to be different than everything else because other people were doing landscapes," Jones said.

The 14-year-old said she has dabbled in painting at her home in Red Mesa, Utah, but not to the level that students reached last week.

Her painting of a dancer who was dressed in red, white and blue was inspired by a magazine advertisement, she said.

"I thought it was cool how her passion was showing," Jones said about the dancer. "She was enjoying herself being on stage."

In the three days of instruction, Jones said she received guidance about using paintbrushes and on depth perception and colors.

Jones was among several students who have attended "Dahayóígíí" for the program's three years in existence.

Jones' grandmother, Bernice Lefthand, said the program has helped her granddaughter develop artistic interests and overcome shyness, especially when she participated in the performing arts class last year.

"She’s awesome. She’s always been in the arts," Lefthand said.

Ali White, an administrator with the program, said instructors provide guidance to help students achieve their artistic visions.

This year's classes attracted more than 100 students each day.

"The kids this year, I feel, have been very enthusiastic. They were ready," White said.

In its first year, the event was housed at Shiprock High School. Last year, it moved to the Shiprock Youth Complex to accommodate more students.

"It has grown, and I think the community knows of the event. We have regulars here," White said.

During the talent show, students from the performing arts class staged a mixture of skits and musical pieces.

In a short performance entitled "Shiprock Marathon," two boys and one girl competed against each other by slowly moving across the stage. The boys led for most of the competition, but the girl claimed the win after cartwheeling across the finish line, which elicited applause from the audience.

Rashawn Benally, 11, performed in the marathon skit and was also part of a group that sang a "mountain song" in the Navajo language.

In an interview backstage, Benally, of Shiprock, said he joined the class because he wanted to develop his acting skills.

"Some people like to laugh," he said about marathon comedy sketch.

Shiprock residents Andrew McDonald, 11, and Akina John, 9, were also among the students who performed on Friday.

"I wanted to go on stage and perform," McDonald said after his performance concluded.

John said she was a little shy after stepping on stage but she came up with a plan for calming her nerves.

"I looked at the light," John said, referring to the stage lights.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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