The Cama’i Dance Festival in Bethel has been postponed until Fall 2020 out of concerns over the coronavirus. The festival normally brings Indigenous dance groups from all around the country to Bethel during March.
Linda Curda is the coordinator for the festival, and met with 17 volunteers on March 10 to decide whether to cancel Cama’i altogether.
"And from the very beginning, we took off the table canceling," Curda said.
Instead, they decided to postpone the festival until the fall. The three-day festival was originally scheduled to be held from March 20 to March 22. Curda says that they had just finalized the festival schedule.
The decision came as Gov. Mike Dunleavy declared a public health disaster emergency over the coronavirus. People over 60 and those with underlying health conditions are more likely to become severely ill with the virus, and Curda said that the decision to postpone is an effort to protect Elders who travel from the villages in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and elsewhere to participate.
"Our frail Elders would be severely impacted by the disease, so how do we do Cama’i without our Elders? We can’t," Curda said.
The dance festival usually happens at the Bethel Regional High School gym, where dancers, community members, and spectators all cram together. Elders sit in the front row, and sometimes people hop up on the stage to yuraq or dance with the performers. All of that can lead to a rapid spread of disease. People traveling for spring break this month are another concern.
"Wherever folks are traveling, they are coming back to the Delta, and so the question is, 'would we know?'" Curda said.
Organizers still plan to hold the dance festival in the fall, and are talking with the high school administrators about dates. Curda says that they plan to invite all the same groups back to Bethel.