“A lot of the dancers are new, and this is one of their first times being on a stage this big. They were nervous, but as soon as they heard the gourds, they relaxed,” said Annette Ramirez, group leader of the Bird Singers and Dancers by the River group, who performed along with several other cultural dance and singing groups for the first-ever Arizona Rattlers Multicultural Night on May 11. The Rattlers played against the Utah Blaze at the US Airways Center.
“This is the first time the Arizona Rattlers has held a multicultural event,” said Stephanie Miller, community relations coordinator for the Arizona Rattlers arena football team. “We reached out to the Salt River Community because of our established partnership with them. We also reached out to the Ak-Chin [Indian] Community, because they too have a connection to the Arizona Rattlers family. We are extremely excited to have both Ak-Chin and Salt River here.”
Prior to the start of the season every year, Miller explained, the Rattlers staff comes together and brainstorms various “theme night” ideas. “Multicultural Night was a big hit the second it was brought to the table,” she said. “We had six performance groups, with a total of 65 performers.” In addition to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa and the Ak-Chin tribes, the cultures represented were Irish, Bollywood (India), Chinese and Hispanic.
Prior to the game, Ramirez and her group rehearsed and prepared for the opening ceremony. They accompanied the sister nation Ak-Chin Indian Community, who performed a basket dance just before the Piipaash Dancers showcased their song and dance.
During halftime, the spectators enjoyed a Chinese lion dance, performed by members of the Arizona Martial Arts Lion Dance Association; a Mexican folkloric dance, performed by students at Thompson Ranch Elementary School in El Mirage; a Bollywood performance by students of the Kriti Dance Academy; and an Irish step dance, performed by students of the Bracken School of Irish Dance.
Many of the Piipaash dancers had never seen an arena football game before.“[I’ve] seen it on TV, but never live. After the performance, I stayed and watched the game; [I] had a lot of fun,” said Lynwood Vest, one of the Piipaash singers. Vest was accompanied by Pacer Reina, Bruin Reina and Edgar “E.J.” Carlyle Jr.
The Rattlers went on to defeat the Blaze, 65-49. The team experienced their highest fan count ever, with more than 10,000 in attendance at Multicultural Night.