Dance on a Sealskin

This story by Barbara Winslow and illustrated by Teri Sloat depicts a Yupik coming-of-age ceremony for a young woman. As the young girl prepares herself to honor the living and the dead, the ancestors of her past, she looks forward to carrying out the ancient traditions of her community.

Under the evaluation rubric, I found this children’s story to meet the high quality standards (all 3’s) of literature, authority, and authenticity. Both the author and illustrator formally taught elementary school in the Yupik villages in Alaska. It is evidential that the language and setting are interwoven to depict the place accurately…many parts of the story such as the “acting out an old story of the bear hunt” and the “ax handles and fish traps” give an accurate sense of place. There were also many metaphors.

I would use this story as a starting point for students to connect music with place. Essential Questions: How does dance relate to music? How do other forms of art such as paintings and dance relate to music? Do you see a parallel between these art forms in your own culture? Discussing how music relates to milestones of life such as coming of age, marriage, and death in different cultures would pose as a great discussion (for example, “Here Comes the Bride” is a standard piece for marriage of American culture).

5 thoughts on “Dance on a Sealskin”

  1. The word “interwoven” is a good description of many of the stories that I’ve seen. I also like the questions you’ve posed, relating music to the milestones of life.

  2. “How does dance relate to music?” is a great question. I would also maybe look into deaf culture and see how deaf people experience dancing without music.

  3. Lindsay. This sounds like a nice book and you have captured my interest in it. I also like your essential questions that you came up with. I will look back these when preparing lessons in the future.

  4. I think a number of the children’s books that Kathy brought had coming of age themes interwoven with cultural elements from the various Alaskan regions. This would be a good story to compare to “The very last first time” that a number of other students read. I like how you were able to tie the story to music, especially to pieces like “Here Comes the Bride.” I think that even performing could be considered a “right of passage” for a musician; it involves the same feelings of excitement, anticipation, and hesitation. Perhaps this book could be used in that context as well- students getting ready to perform and dealing with stage jitters.

  5. I like the connections you have drawn to music and the potential for cultural, self, and community exploration posed to the student. Your essential questions are very thoughtful and provide lots of avenues to ponder.

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