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

Now in its fourth season, NBC’s “World of Dance” featured many different types of dance. “They had styles from Mexico, China, Africa, break dancers, salsa dancers,” says Kenneth Shirley, founder of Phoenix-based Indigenous Enterprise.

But until last night, the show had neglected to present the oldest dance traditions in America, those of the Native American tribes.

The performances of “World of Dance” are by nature short, which is why, in just one minute, the choreographer Nathaniel Nez decided to present four dances seen during the powwow: the war dance for men, the dance of the prairie chicken for men, hoop dance for men and grass dance. “Our main mission was to expose the show to as much culture as possible and not just to style it,” says Shirley.

Although the members of the Indigenous Enterprise are Navajo, their dances reflect various tribes including the Blackfeet Nation, the Ponca Tribe, and the Omaha Tribe. “A lot of these dances, right now, are borrowed, especially as powwows have become more popular,” says Ty LodgePole, male Prairie Chicken dancer. “It’s more than normal for another tribe to dance because a powwow is supposed to be a social gathering to boost everyone’s morale.”

The producers of “World of Dance” discovered Indigenous Enterprise via Instagram after seeing a collaboration they had made 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 at Drake.

While filming in February, Shirley says the importance of portraying indigenous dance has not been lost on the film crew and producers. “When we walked past,” he says, “they would nudge us and say, ‘It’s about time you were on the show. We have had four seasons and they never had Native Americans. It is time they honored the first people of their country. ”

“Because we filmed in Los Angeles, which is the lands of the Tongva people, it was only right that they included some native culture,” says Shirley.

Although the Indigenous Enterprise did not advance in the competition, their appearance was a victory for authentic depictions of Native Americans in popular culture, exposing many viewers to their dances for the first time. (Even Shirley commented on how surprised he was that Judge Jennifer Lopez, whose career took her across the globe, had never seen Native American dance.)

“I want people to see that we are still alive and passing on our culture,” says Shirley, who works with her fellow dancers to dispel stereotypes through educational performances at schools, festivals and events this far away. than Australia. “A lot of times we get seen in the media and in Hollywood with that pic of ‘cowboys and indians’, those old movies where they paint us like savages with Clint Eastwood.”

“When we go out on stage and dance, it lets people know that we are real Native Americans and that we have real cultures. All the dances we do are from long before Christopher Columbus came to America.