Mandy Begay

Ever since I was old enough to understand the meaning of the Sunrise Dance, I was told that it was essential for me as a growing woman to have one. I hated the idea, and I couldn't understand why dancing at sunrise for two days, 63 songs, would make a difference in my life. I felt it was only some stupid ritual. I didn't want to make a fool of myself by dancing in front of the community, and what would I get out of it anyway? Therefore, it came to me as a surprise when I had strong feelings while I participated in one as an assistant for my friend Laura's Sunrise Dance.

The sun was not yet up and the final preparations were being made. The medicine man was telling us which way to walk into the sacred points, how we should stand, when we should start, and every little detail. We had to do everything perfectly. With all these specific details, I was positive that I would eventually mess up. As the sun was making its way over the horizon and through the tall pine trees, the music started. Laura and I began to dance; we were dancing friends.

There we were, the two of us, dancing in front of the entire community. I was embarrassed in the beginning. Everyone was staring. I lost my train of thought and the sun rays began to soak me up into it . . . The songs came one after another and the summer sun rose higher and higher. . . I didn't feel anything . . . I let my body dance to the music, and once that happened, I was gone . . . Everything that was in front of me, I didn't see . . . I was taken by the meaning of the Sunrise Dance. This dance was to help build my endurance, and it would symbolize my womanhood. I started this dance as a child, but I would end it as a woman.

The singers sang louder and louder of our Apache ways, love, and friendship. I didn't understand all the words, but I knew what they said. They were telling me to be strong in life and to live life to its fullest. The louder they sang, the harder I danced. The song ended and sweat dripped from my face. When the medicine man directed me to turn, walk around the buckskin and dance with the community, he took me by surprise. I had almost forgotten that the dance wasn't mine; it was Laura's. I helped her for half of the songs and then her godmother took my place.

As I stood along the side lines and watched Laura dance to the beat of the drums, I imagined it was my dance. I was the one changing into a woman. I was the one with all the strength, and I was the one with the respect from my elders for continuing the tradition. My desire to be a Sunrise Dance girl grew in the matter of a morning, but by this time, it was too late for me to have one.