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."


News
Getty Images

Despite worldwide theater closures, the Universal Ballet Competition is keeping The Nutcracker tradition alive in 2020 with an online international competition. The event culminates in a streamed, full-length video of The Virtual Nutcracker consisting of winning entries on December 19. The competition is calling on studios, as well as dancers of all ages and levels, to submit videos by November 29 to be considered.

"Nutcracker is a tradition that is ingrained in our hearts," says UBC co-founder Lissette Salgado-Lucas, a former dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. "We danced it for so long as professionals, we can't wait to pass it along to dancers through this competition."

Keep reading... Show less
Robbie Sweeny, courtesy Funsch

Christy Funsch's teaching career has taken her from New York City to the Bay Area to Portugal, with a stint in a punk band in between. But this fall—fresh off a Fulbright in Portugal at the Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa, School of Dance (ESD), teaching and researching empathetic embodiment through somatic dance training—Funsch's teaching has taken her to an entirely new location: Zoom. A visiting professor at Slippery Rock University for the 2020–21 academic year, Funsch is adapting her eclectic, boundary-pushing approach to her virtual classes.

Originally from central New York State, Funsch spent 20 years performing in the Bay Area, where she also started her own company, Funsch Dance Experience. "My choreographic work from that time is in the dance-theater experiential, fantasy realm of performance," she says. "I also started blending genres and a lot of urban styles found their way into my choreography."

Keep reading... Show less
News
Courtesy Meg Brooker

As the presidential election approaches, it's a particularly meaningful time to remember that we are celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment, when women earned the right to vote after a decades-long battle.

Movement was more than a metaphor for the fight for women's suffrage—dancers played a real role, most notably Florence Fleming Noyes, who performed her riveting solo Dance of Freedom in 1914 to embody the struggle for women's rights.

This fall, Middle Tennessee State University director of dance Meg Brooker is reconstructing Dance of Freedom on 11 of her students. A Noyes Rhythm teacher and an Isadora Duncan scholar, Brooker is passionate about bringing historic dance practices into a contemporary context.

Keep reading... Show less

Get Dance Business Weekly in your inbox

Sign Up Used in accordance with our Privacy Policy.