Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Celebrating cultural diversity in Faribault at International Market Day August 27, 2010

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An Aztec dancer, garbed in a symbolic headdress entertains the audience during the 2009 International Market Day in Faribault.

TO THE STEADY BEAT of a drum, the 12 dancers sidestepped across the grass, their bodies moving in a rhythmic dance ritual that mesmerized.

As they twirled and kicked and circled just yards away in bare feet blackened by the earth, sweet incense-infused smoke drifted toward me. The smoldering fire of incense, said a member of the Aztec group, Ollin Ayacaxtli, symbolizes cleaning of the air and attracting “the good energy around us.”

The dancing was certainly creating plenty of good vibes among the crowd gathered last August in Faribault’s Central Park for performances by the Northfield/Owatonna-based dancers. Appreciative applause followed each short dance during the Faribault Diversity Coalition’s annual International Market Day celebration.

Everything about the performers spoke to symbolism steeped in deeply-rooted tradition. They dressed in colorful costumes patterned after those of Aztec warriors and adorned with Aztec calendar symbols like butterflies, fire, skeletons and flowers.

The belief that “most things in nature come from two things” is the basis of Aztec thinking, the audience learned in a brief cultural lesson. Nature encircled the faces of the dancers, who wore colorful headdresses sprouting plumes of feathers.

Later I would learn from dancer Jesus Torres of Owatonna that the Aztec culture is all about harmony and about rain, earth, wind and fire, and about respecting elders. The group formed, he said, to teach those involved and others about the tradition, values, costumes and history of the Aztec.

Ollin Ayacaxtli travels to events in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa presenting their symbolic dances that pulse with energy in every dance of the foot, in every beat of the drum, in every shake of a maracas.

Members of Ollin Ayacaxtli perform in front of the Central Park bandshell.

The drums are made from a very old tree and, like our grandfather, are to be respected, the audience was told.

A dancer moved across the grass, bells blending with the drum's beat.

Duo dancers, legs intertwined, danced in a circle.

Smoking incense and shells were integral to the performance with the shells symbolizing the sound that goes across the universe.

A member of Ollin Ayacaxtli dances with the group.

A girl snuggles in her Dad's arms while he watches the Aztec dancers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wrote this blog post one year ago for another publication, which subsequently folded and did not publish this piece.

Tomorrow, Saturday, August 28, the International Market Day Committee and the Faribault Diversity Coalition are sponsoring a fifth annual International Market Day. The event runs from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. in Faribault’s Central Park, at Fifth Street and Second Avenue Northwest. Aztec dances, music and games; international food and market vendors; community resource information; and farmers’ market vendors will be part of the cultural celebration.

Please attend International Market Day and celebrate the diversity of life in Minnesota.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling