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Lakota dancer Kevin Locke aims to awaken the human spirit through his indigenous music and dance. 

Elemental Art

Kevin Locke left his job as an elementary school teacher so that he could fulfill the frequent requests he was getting to perform across the country and around the world. But even though he left the classroom, he hasn't stopped educating. Locke, who also goes by his Lakota name Tokeya Inajin, which means "The First to Rise," is a Lakota (Sioux) and Anishabe hoop dancer, storyteller and cultural ambassador. He is also considered the preeminent player of the indigenous Northern Plains flute. Locke will share his indigenous art on Wednesday, Jan. 19 at the University of Richmond along with Bryan Akipa of the Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe, a Dakota dancer and flutist. The free performance is being held in conjunction with the opening of the Marsh Art Gallery's exhibition of "Art in 2 Worlds: The Native American Fine Art Invitational 1983-1997." Most of the material the two present stresses self-esteem, character development, morals and education on unity and diversity. Every instrument symbolizes an elemental force: voice as lightning, rattle as rain, flute as wind and drums as thunder, — the force responsible for sustaining all creation. The 28 hoops Locke uses in his hoop dances each represent a day in the lunar cycle, symbolic of "the great hoop of life, where the sky meets the earth and all of the hoops that exist within that sphere," Locke explains. The Native-American songs and music he and Akipa will offer were handed down by family members and tribal elders. Locke learned the hoop dances from a Mandan Hidatsa Indian from North Dakota who gave him a 15 minute session, promising more, only to die suddenly a few days later. Locke says the man then appeared in his dreams to complete the instructions. Although it is derived from traditional culture, the material Locke presents carries a common message. "My goal is to raise awareness of the oneness we share as human beings," he says. "We're all infinitely diverse as members of mankind, but we're all part of one circle or one hoop or whole. In the past, humanity has been defined by [its] isolation and their lack of awareness of one another, so in a way, we're all struggling to emerge out of the past. We have to begin to see how we can create global civilization." Locke has performed and lectured in more than 70 countries. He recently returned from South Africa where he participated in the World Parliament of Religions and got to hear Nelson Mandela and meet the Dalai Lama. Whether in Africa or the Americas, Locke strives for a unity based on spiritual principles, the awareness that we are all connected. For Locke life is a sacred journey, what he refers to as an "efflorescence, a blossoming process," or "awakening of the human spirit." His music and instruments are "counterpoints to the powerful, elemental forces of the thunderstorm. ... These are the things that keep the spirit alive and they have to be sustained
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