In 2009, Tibetan monks left their mountainous monasteries and came to flat red dirt. Back then that first group of Buddhist holy men's visit here helped launch the Norman Cultural Connection (NCC) organization.
A relationship developed between several Norman residents including NCC executive director Marial Martyn Ph.D and her board of directors. In the subsequent decade there have been many Tibetan monks-in-residence sessions teaching compassion and the sacred art of creating sand mandalas and painting the spiritual geometric configurations.
NCC has engaged with many other cultures as well. Tonight and all weekend they are hosting an African Drumming and Dance workshop at Modern Dance Arts Studio, 1423 24th Ave. SW. Participation details are posted at normanculturalconnection.org.
Presently Martyn and her executive assistant Kenzie Grubitz-Simpson plan and administer NCC's 501 (c) (3) programs from their office at 1017 Elm Avenue. Martyn provided a thumbnail history of the organization.
"We developed an educational DVD with Crosslin Smith, he's a Cherokee elder and spiritual leader," Martyn said. "He wanted to share some very traditional stories but wanted them accessible to all children for help with character development and making good life choices."
NCC has grown over the years, expanding the various kinds of programming they offer. Their current brochure of lectures and services includes ones on the wisdom of Malawian grandmothers, value of indigenous science and screening of an Oklahoma documentary on Native American flute players.
"We're excited about our compassion around the world lecture series," Martyn said. "It's a combination of a lecture partnering with a service project so we can keep our audience engaged with what we're hearing about. We pride ourselves on bringing together diversity with a common unity of compassion."
Among NCC's programs are some that are delightfully hands-on. Mary and Kathy Haney teach a Native American basket weaving class that manages to be informative, creative and highly amusing.
"Recently there's been a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion here in Norman," Grubitz-Simpson said. "How to bring that to the community is still being worked-out. After what we've seen with (racist) events at OU there's a need for cultural awareness and understanding. What NCC does well is not just preach multi-culturalism and tolerance but to bring people together so they can participate together."
Bringing Tibetan monks to Norman for arts workshops on nine different occasions have been community-wide occasions.
"People come from around the state and beyond for those week long events," Martyn said. "There's an undercurrent of kindness and compassion that they exude and people are hungry for that kind of attitude and acceptance."
2019 will be the fourth year that NCC have hosted Zoe and Gordy Ryan for an African drumming and dancing event.
'They are professional musicians and dancers from the Seattle area," Martyn said. "Gordy toured and performed with Babatunde Olatunji's Drums of Passion for over thirty years. Zoe was a dancer with the ensemble. They're coming to Norman to share the tradition of West African drumming and dance that they learned with the masters. They have been entrusted with passing on this knowledge."
The event has been underwritten by the Norman Arts Council and Oklahoma Humanities, allowing free admission for university students and children.
"It will be a cultural, historical, fun experience," Martyn said. "Gordy and Zoe will share the cultural context of the music and dance and how they interrelate. We'll learn the language of the songs, what they mean. Then he's going to take us on a journey from African to Cuban and Brazilian music and how it influences our jazz, R&B and hip hop here in the USA."
Along with the cultural aspects of dance there will be a focus on the health benefits of shaking a tail feather.
"And also the harmony between the dancer and drummers," Martyn said. "Along with the harmony that happens within a group of dancers as they build a collective sense of joy."
NCC has brought joy to many different people during its decade of existence.
"There's a beauty from what connecting people can do," Martyn said. "It takes away all barriers and bringing people together is inspiring. Experiencing that over and over again has been wonderfully enriching."