The music is hauntingly beautiful, the dances are expressive and energetic, and the food is traditional and hearty. The Navajo Nation experience offered at the Red Heritage Indigenous Entertainment Hall in Page, Arizona, virtually pulses with authenticity.
In everything from the rhythmic drum beats provided by a group of local musicians to the world-class dances presented by athletic performers, Red Heritage delivers on its promise of an artistic and educational experience to remember. In fact, short of attending a powwow event in a venue in the Navajo Nation, it is hard to imagine getting a better immersion into Native American dancing and music in a single evening than the one offered at Red Heritage.
One of the beauties of Red Heritage’s entertainment is that, unlike powwows, the shows take place almost every night, and the venue is located right in the middle of the northern Arizona town of Page. I recently attended an evening show at Red Heritage and I loved the multi-faceted approach that covered everything from food to art to music.
Here are seven things that bring Navajo culture to life at the Red Heritage Indigenous Entertainment Hall.
Information in this article was obtained during a sponsored press trip. All opinions are my own.
1. The Dancing Is Inspiring
The dancers at Red Heritage don’t just perform their numbers; they seem to live the stories that are integral to the origin of the dances. Red Heritage owner and master of ceremonies, Tomas Hunt, sets the stage beforehand by explaining how the dances came to be, helping the stories come to life.
For example, he told the audience about the origins of the Grass Dance, which originated with the Mandan People of the Great Plains. Pointing to the strands of ribbon on the dancers’ regalia, Hunt said, “This is very symbolic of the way the traditional Grass Dancer would get low to the ground, pull the grass out, and tuck it into their clothing. It also helps you visualize the fluidity of the grass and the gentle breeze and the harsh winds.”
The elegant and poignant Jingle Dress Dance, performed by two female dancers, focuses on the struggle that Native Americans faced with illnesses brought by European settlers. “When the Europeans first came to the Americas, there were illnesses that Native American people had no immunity to,” Hunt said. The dance symbolizes the story of a young girl who became ill but was healed when she danced in a Jingle Dress. “The Jingle Dress Dance is a wellness dance,” Hunt continued.
All of the dances in the Red Heritage program, including a spectacular Hoop Dance, are illuminated with colorful lighting, lending a lovely aura to the performances.
Hunt concluded the program by pointing out how the Hoop Dance reflects day-to-day struggles of real life. Picking up the hoops from the floor of the stage, he told the audience, “You have to pick up each of the hoops one at a time. We can apply this to our lives. We can’t let our problems pile up. Pick up these hoops, pick up these problems, and rebuild the world that we live in.”
2. Performers Are Local
Red Heritage takes pride in its local talent, and its website notes that the show “showcases local dancers talented in colorful powwow dancing, flute playing, and live drum music.”
Hunt introduced several of the dancers as members of his family and he told his own story of growing up in the Navajo Nation in the small town of Shonto.
3. The Business Is Navajo-Owned And Operated
Hunt and others emphasized that the Red Heritage Indigenous Entertainment Hall is Navajo-owned and operated. The authenticity of that factor is reflected in the dancing and regalia.
“If you look at the clothing we’re wearing, we do not refer to them as costumes,” Hunt said. “A costume implies that you are trying to be something that you are not. This is who we are. We’re Native Americans. We’re not pretending.”
He added that thought, prayer, and symbolism go into the regalia. “They’re all handmade by a family member or relative or ourselves,” he said.
4. Moving Native Music
Throughout the evening, the dances were accompanied by rhythmic drum beats and chants provided by a drum ring made up of four or five musicians. The music changed depending on the dance, but it always filled the hall with an authentic air, and it seemed to drive the dancing.
Another highlight of the show was a performance by a local musician on a native flute, the melodic and captivating music resonating through the hall.
5. Informative Stories About Navajo Rug Making
Red Heritage’s show started off with a presentation about the history and heritage of rug making in the Navajo culture. The weaving demonstration included a young girl sitting at a loom, along with a display of iconic Navajo rug designs, and an explanation of how the rugs are created.
Red Heritage’s head Navajo rug weaver, Charlene Hunt, led off the evening by telling the audience that while the Spaniards first brought sheep to the area in the 1500s, that was not the beginning of the story of Navajo weaving.
“The anthropologists will tell you that’s about the time we started to make our weaving,” she said. “But our story goes much further than that. Our first weaver, her name was Spider Woman. She taught her daughter how to do the weaving and it’s always been taught from female to female until about the 1900s.”
The presentation included fascinating details about gathering the wool, cleaning it with a soap made of yuca root, and weaving it on a loom. Several children in the audience were asked to volunteer to come on stage and help demonstrate the process.
6. Delicious Navajo Tacos
Upon arrival at Red Heritage, guests are directed to a traditional Navajo taco buffet, complete with a choice of meats including chicken, beef, and pork, and toppings such as lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, and sour cream. Guests also have a choice between the classic Navajo fry bread for tacos or rice as a gluten-free option.
The buffet also includes a choice of desserts and soft drinks. For those who prefer a beer, a glass of wine, or a cocktail to go along with their dinner, the Blue bar is located right next door, and drinks can be taken into the adjoining entertainment hall. Billed as bringing the “big city” to Page, the Blue offers a range of local beers and cocktails, as well as traditional espresso and authentic French pastries.
7. The Location Is In Town And Convenient
Located right in the middle of Page, Red Heritage is wonderfully accessible and easy to find.
Because it is part of a shopping center that once housed a supermarket, parking is plentiful, and other restaurants, bars, and stores are nearby. Along with Red Heritage, the shopping center also features a popular sushi spot, Blue Buddha Sushi Lounge, as well as a steak, seafood, and pasta spot at the DAM Bar and Grille, and an outdoor clothing store, the Dam Outlet.
Pro Tip: Base For Antelope Canyon And The Wave
Owing to its location at the northwest edge of the scenic Navajo Nation — just miles from the Utah border and not far from several national parks like Zion, Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon — Page makes a great base for taking in the countless natural wonders in the region. Among the most iconic of the nearby features are the slot canyons of Antelope Canyon, picturesque Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River, the stunning Lake Powell in the Glen Canyon Recreation Area, and the pinstriped rock formations of The Wave (available by permit and lottery only).
A wealth of information on Page-area attractions, including instructions for how to register for The Wave lottery, is available at Page’s official visitor center, The Hub.