News

Meet the First Native American Dance Group to Appear on "World of Dance"

Indigenous Enterprise performing on Season 4 of "World of Dance." Photo courtesy of MPRM Communications

Now in its fourth season, NBC's "World of Dance" has showcased many types of dance. "They've had styles from Mexico, China, Africa, break dancers, salsa dancers," says Kenneth Shirley, founder of Phoenix-based troupe Indigenous Enterprise.

But until last night, the show had neglected to feature America's oldest homegrown dance traditions, those of Native American tribes.


"World of Dance" performances are short by nature, so in just one minute, choreographer Nathaniel Nez decided to showcase four dances seen at powwows: the fancy men's war dance, men's prairie chicken dance, men's hoop dance and grass dance. "Our main mission was to expose the show to as much culture as possible and not just to do one style," says Shirley.

Though the members of Indigenous Enterprise are Navajo, their dances reflect various tribes, including the Blackfeet Nation, Ponca Tribe and Omaha Tribe. "A lot of these dances, now in present time, are borrowed—especially as powwows became more popular," says men's prairie chicken dancer Ty LodgePole. "It's more than okay for another tribe to be dancing it because a powwow is meant to be a social gathering to uplift everybody's spirits."

"World of Dance" producers discovered Indigenous Enterprise via Instagram after seeing a collaboration they'd done with The Black Eyed Peas' Taboo, whose grandmother is a member of the Shoshone Tribe. They invited the troupe to audition for the show, where they mixed tradition and pop culture by performing powwow dances to Drake.

During filming in February, Shirley says that the importance of representing indigenous dance wasn't lost on the camera crew and producers. "When we'd walk by," he says, "they'd give us a little nudge and be like, 'It's about time that you guys are on the show. We've had four seasons and they've never had Native Americans. It's about time they honor the first people of their land.' "

"Because we filmed in Los Angeles—that's the Tongva people's lands—it was only right that they included some indigenous culture," says Shirley.

Though Indigenous Enterprise didn't advance in the competition, their appearance was a win for authentic portrayals of Native Americans in popular culture, exposing many viewers to their dances for the first time. (Even Shirley remarked how surprised he was that judge Jennifer Lopez, whose career has taken her around the world, had never seen Native American dance.)

"I want people to see that we're still alive and we're passing on our culture," says Shirley, who works with his fellow dancers to dispel stereotypes through educational performances at schools, festivals and events as far away as Australia. "Oftentimes we're seen in the media and Hollywood with this picture of 'cowboys and Indians'—those old movies where they paint us looking like savages with Clint Eastwood."

"When we come out performing and dancing, it lets people know we're real Native Americans and we have real cultures. All the dances we're doing are from way, way before Christopher Columbus came to America."


Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

Keep reading... Show less
Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

Keep reading... Show less
Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.