Missoulians didn’t have to stay up until midnight to ring in 2014, and many began earlier Tuesday with First Night Missoula festivities throughout town.

In its 20th year, the event was presented by the Missoula Cultural Council and offered something for everyone. This year’s activities ranged from live music to sonnet reading to a kung fu movie marathon and hands-on science activities, dance performances and ice carving.

The roughly dozen Missoula College culinary student volunteers began chipping away at the ice to create a mama bear and cub at 7 a.m. on the Missoula County Courthouse lawn.

Already, blocks denoting the year, a chef’s hat and First Night’s emblem had been completed and stored in a freezer so the students could focus on the larger sculpture, said Tom Campbell, director of the culinary program.

Fifteen 300-pound blocks of ice were fused together and then carved down into the bears, he said, adding the task was especially interesting considering some of the students had never carved ice before.

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At the University of Montana’s University Center, the New Year’s Eve revelers included slow-motion ninjas, zoo animals, seeds and more as they joined in a romp with Turning the Wheel.

Participants followed others’ leads in movement and created different shapes based on their interpretations of instructions.

The exercise is about giving people a safe environment in which to express themselves and connect with others through movement, said Lulu Steinberg, who co-teaches with Turning the Wheel’s Missoula chapter founder, Lizzi Juda.

When people connect, they feel good and laugh, Steinberg said.

Marnie Prange still had a smile on her face after the workshop. She came to First Night as a volunteer and decided to check out the romp since things were slow in the early afternoon hours.

She was in for a surprise, said Prange, who thought the event was about making ceramic pots.

“I like the idea that I was expressing myself in a group but not following a leader necessarily,” she said.

Five-year-old Gabe Hammitt and his mom Mindy also enjoyed the 45-minute session.

Gabe said he especially enjoyed making a triangle shape with his body.

Mindy Hammitt said she’s been coming to First Night since she was a college freshman, and now has more fun coming with her two sons and husband.

This year, they brought friends from Georgia who are considering a move to Missoula. First Night would give them an idea of what the town is like, Hammitt said, adding the event showcases the best Missoula. “Because you get to see the creativity and the culture and the welcomingness of people.”

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Some of the events were in unlikely venues, such as the sonnet reading in front of the Florence Building and the Captain Wilson Conspiracy’s live jazz performance at the Missoula Art Museum.

“This is a great venue, the museum itself,” said Greg Oliver, who has been coming to First Night with his wife Neva since the event began.

Back then, the events they attended were a little different, as they had two children, Neva Oliver said.

Although both said they were unlikely to make it until midnight, they planned to take in several performances.

“I think part of the fun of First Night is good entertainment in different settings,” Greg Oliver said.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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