The Candlelight Concert Society opens its 1993-94 performing arts series for children and families this weekend with an offering of native culture that may be foreign to some.
The Baltimore American Indian Center Dancers, based in Fells Point, will perform Sunday at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre.
The troupe, established in 1968, is comprised of American Indian dancers, including members of the Lumbee and Saponi tribes. They are scheduled to perform three styles of American Indian dance in traditional garb in men's and women's categories: grass, traditional and fancy dancing.
For the past three years, the group has been led by Archie Lynch, cultural arts director for the center and narrator who provides explanations of the dances for the audience.
His dancers, who have ranged in age from 14 months to 25 years, have performed at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Columbia Festival of the Arts last year and as far away as Buffalo, N.Y., and Toronto.
Two dancers, ages 7 and 8, will make their public debuts this weekend.
Mr. Lynch said that the dancing offered is much like Indian culture: rooted in tradition but not static.
"Native culture is an ever-growing and adapting culture," he said.
Of the three dancing styles offered, fancy dancing, which became popular in the 1950s, is the most modern.
"Basically, it's more of a style of outfit than style of dance," he said.
The outfits have bright colors, some are fully beaded, others are decorated with sequins or ribbon work. Dancers may choose their own style.
Grass dancing and traditional dancing are both much older forms. Mr. Lynch said that the former has an interesting -- and possibly apocryphal -- origin.
"It's a Southern Plains type of dance. There was a dancer who couldn't dance because of his legs. He saw the grass swaying to and fro. So he came up with a dance that imitates prairie grass," he said. "Grass dancing is also called Omaha dancing."
Traditional dance is "basically what dance would have been 200 to 300 years ago," he said. The beads on some of the outfits are a contemporary addition.
Mr. Lynch cites many reasons for youngsters joining the dance group.
"It builds self-esteem and brings them together to meet other Indians," he said.
"It gives them something to work on and gives them pride in who they are."
Candlelight Executive Director Bonita Bush said that the dance group was recommended to her by Linda Vlasek, director of Maryland State Arts Council Artists in Education.
Previous dance offerings by Candlelight have includes Balinese, classical ballet and modern dance.
"We try to have some dance every year," said Ms. Bush. "It was time to get the Native Americans in on this.
"I think it's something that will appeal to children."
Ms. Bush said that the 2 p.m. performance is designed for younger children with the 3:30 p.m. show for middle school children.
Mr. Lynch said that patrons not familiar with American Indian dance should notice the link between the drummers and the dancers.
"Each dancer interprets the song individually," he said. "Tempo and speed can vary. Everything can change."
The Baltimore American Indian Center Dancers will perform at 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Smith Theatre, Howard Community College. Tickets are $6. A season subscription for six concerts is available at $25. Information: 715-0034.