BYU’s Living Legends blends cultures in China

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Living Legends, BYU’s Native American dance group, had the opportunity to share traditional Native American dances in China, where audiences included people who had no idea that Native Americans still existed. The group performed at the BYU Spectacular in China six times during the past two weeks.

“Having this opportunity to share my culture with the people of China is something special just because in a lot of countries they don’t know that natives still exist,” said Adam Conte, one of the Living Legends performers. “A lot of them think they’re just in the history books and some people that are kind of extinct now and not really real.”

Adam Conte is half Polynesian and half Native American. While growing up his parents made sure that he learned the traditional dances of their ancestors. At a young age, Conte remembers performing using Native American sign language at the Arizona Mesa Temple Pageant during Christmastime every year. Later on, while a student at BYU Hawaii, Conte performed at the Polynesian Cultural Center.

Conte said that Native American tribes encourage tribe members to learn traditional dances as well as other cultural traditions to preserve them. “We’re in somewhat of a cultural renaissance right now where some tribes are pushing to remember some of their old language and dances and customs,” said Conte.

Conte’s grandparents danced in a BYU group called Four Feathers, and his parents danced in the same group, which was later renamed Lamanite Generation, now known as Living Legends.

Conte’s parents met while dancing with Lamanite Generation. Conte followed in his family’s footsteps and joined the Living Legends dance group at BYU, but little did he know that by joining the group, he would be fulfilling destiny.

According to Conte, 38 years ago his parents went to China to perform with the Lamanite Generation and other BYU performing groups. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, went with the group to China. During his time with them, he told them that their children would go back to China to dance. Some 38 years later, BYU invited Conte to go to China with Living Legends and perform in the BYU Spectacular, fulfilling Elder Maxwell’s prophesy. “So when I told my parents I was going to China they both started to cry because it was 38 years ago they were told that,” said Conte.

BYU’s Living Legends perform in Xi’an, China as part of the BYU Spectacular tour. (Steve Fidel)

Besides being able to share his own culture, Conte also became immersed in the Chinese culture while on tour. At the end of every show, all of the performers sang a traditional Chinese song called Mo Li Hua. Every time the opening notes of Mo Li Hua played, the audience would cheer loudly and pull out phones to record the song.

“I got kind of choked up it was really touching because they told us it was something special to them but I didn’t really realize how well they were going to accept it,” Conte said.

Conte said blending the two cultures helped melt differences. “Being able to share that with people around the world, I think that unifies us more because I think you can always draw similarities between cultures,” said Conte.

The BYU Spectacular tour featured eight performing groups, 160 performers and more than 200 people on the tour, including Living Legends.

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