This summer, KOM youth were busy learning traditional Karen dances and weaving, which they showcased at events! With the guidance of weavers from our Karen Weaving Circle, students completed their own woven garments at the East Side Freedom Library. They also performed traditional dances at the Karen Martyr’s Day ceremony in front of hundreds of people.
KOM Youth Development Coordinators Pkwa Htoo and Sarmoo Kwee teach traditional Karen bamboo dance and Don dance during the summer youth program. They also offer the classes through the after school program during the school year.
The Karen Don dance has its origins with the Pwo Karen and places emphasis on working in harmony along with other community values. The bamboo dance is a very quick group dance that requires all dancers to be in sync with the beat. Karen youth and young adults usually perform both of these dances at celebrations like Karen Martyr’s Day and Karen New Years. This month, the youth performed at Karen Martyr’s Day! See a video of their bamboo dance here!
Dancing not only teaches about Karen culture, it also is a way for the youth to learn teamwork skills. Performing the dances as a group requires strong group communication and forces participants to become a cohesive group. Two of the students who were interviewed together said that as a result of being on a team “we talk to each other better, we become part of a team.”
Other than dancing, the youth program partners with the Karen Weaving Circle who teach a group of students the art of Karen weaving. For five weeks, the youth learn how to weave items like shirts and bags while also socializing with the older women who are weaving alongside them. KOM Weaving Coordinator Hta Thi Yu Moo organized the program with the KOM Youth Development staff. Hta Thi said about the class that “many students come here to socialize… and to learn new skills from each other.”
Many students enjoy the program because it gives them the opportunity to carry on family traditions. When asked about why learning how to weave is important, one student said that “weaving is special because my grandma did it.” Weaving is a time for different generations to socialize and learn from one another.
The students showed off their finished pieces at the Karen Student Weaving Showcase at the East Side Freedom Library near the end of August. See photos of their items and the event here!
KOM’s summer youth programming is generously supported by the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Mardag Foundation, and contributions from individual donors through the KOMoves for Youth Challenge. Additional funding for the Karen Weaving Circle and youth weaving classes comes from the Minnesota State Arts Board.
This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.