At this year’s Hmong New Year Celebration, held at St. Paul’s RiverCentre the weekend after Thanksgiving, 19 girls from the Pillsbury United Communities (PUC) Hmong Dance Group (the Rainbow Dancers) performed for an packed auditorium. Dressed in bright, sparkly costumes made by the dancers and families of the dancers themselves, the performance was a celebration of Hmong culture and tradition. Unfortunately, this may be the last year that the Rainbow Dancers are able to participate in the celebration. A shortage of funding may put an end to the popular program serving nearly 100 youth dancers.
Mai Vang, the dancers’ teacher, began teaching at PUC’s North Northpoint Center two years ago, and under her guidance the program has grown from ten participants to 100 young girls attending classes every week, although the classes have moved to Oak Park Center since Northpoint has closed. Currently there are three different classes that Vang teaches, serving students from age five to 20 years old. Vang does all of the choreography, instruction, and research for the group, as well as organizing public performances at events such as the Hmong New Year and National Night Out.
Vang says she feels she is giving the girls “something they’re not getting from school.” The Hmong traditional dances are passed down by generation, and to learn it you have to find someone willing to teach. Vang learned the dances from her cousin, and hopes to pass on what she’s learned to the next generation. “I want them to remember,” she says.
Julia Vang Xiong, a Century College Student who used to take classes with Vang at Northpoint, says she loved the dance classes because it allows her and her fellow dancers to “express our culture.” Xiong now takes advanced classes with Vang in a different program at Jordan Park in North Minneapolis.
Nancy Seger, youth manager at the Oak Park Center, says that Vang’s position originally was full time, but the position has been reduced to a contract position. “We’re at a crossroads with the dance group,” Seger says. “We’d prefer to have her work full time,” but she says funding only exists for the program through April. “We’re open to donations,” she says.