DETROIT LAKES, Minn. (AP) -- Amid the pounding of drums, two 11-year-old girls dressed in traditional American Indian shawl dancer outfits fluttered to the beat.
Their iridescent blue outfits were adorned with large, sparkling butterflies and stars. Each girl swung a fringed cape around her body and rhythmically kicked her feet.
Leslie Wakemup and Alicia Weaver, both of Nay-Tah-Waush, Minn., smiled as they circled the drummers. Their dance, the Fancy Shawl, is based on the movements of the butterfly and is representative of their Ojibwe Indian heritage.
The girls, along with about 20 other youngsters, gather in Detroit Lakes each Thursday during the summer to perform traditional Anishinaabe dances as part of Debwedamoen Oshki Anishinaabe -- the Sounding Truth of the Young People -- the Anishinaabe Cultural Center's youth outreach program.
The program aims to keep American Indian teen-agers from being sucked in by gangs, drugs and alcohol, all problems in the northwestern part of the state where they live.
A bright purple sash pinned to the front of her outfit identified Wakemup, who's been dancing for two years, as a "princess" and prize-winning dancer. She said she started dancing because it felt good.
"Dancing is representing," she said.
The youth program, which will celebrate its first anniversary in September, has been a success, said Carol Guinn, the center's spiritual adviser. The dancing is a key part of the program, and one to which the teens devote much time and practice.
"The drumbeat is the center of our lives," Guinn said. "It's the heartbeat of our people. The dancing helps identify who we are."
The center operates independently of any tribal government and does not receive any money from casinos, said Director Marvin Manypenny.
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