In August of 2015 I was thrilled to be able to participate in the second summer dance intensive centered on the theme of ‘seeds’. A small group of alumni from the previous year participated in ‘land-dancing’ a term used by Artistic Director and Choreographer, Rulan Tangen, to describe her unique methodology for dance creation and movement. This process involved many instances of 'dancing into new territory' in a literal sense, such as bringing Indigenous dance into public spaces, private land, traditional Indigenous land, and colonized spaces.
Dancers from last year’s intensive received training in how to teach Dancing Earth Methodology as we developed our own individual dance rituals, warm ups, and workouts. I was moved by the gesture of her gifting us with the tools and responsibility of sharing land- dancing techniques and Dancing Earth methodology with others across North America. I felt overwhelmed and incapable as I thought of sharing Indigenous contemporary dance and movement to people who may have no prior knowledge of Indigenous dance or culture. I imagined the reactions I might get. I imagined what others might say or think. Then it occurred to me that many of the Indigenous Choreographers I look up to have been doing this for decades. What would have it been like for them? Ten, twenty, thirty or more years ago to be one of only a handful of Indigenous dancers in North America or even in the world who practiced Indigenous contemporary dance. Before them we had our ancestors who carried on our dance practices, ceremonies, and songs when it was illegal. Facing imprisonment they kept dancing and practicing their culture resisting the attempts at outright extermination and assimilation of our peoples and cultures. Without these leaders we may not have any of the opportunities we have today.
Once I returned home I reflected on the intensive and the new skills and tools I was able to develop in terms of teaching and facilitating dance. I was not sure if I would have a venue to utilize these new skills but I remained hopeful. Since the intensive I have found more opportunities to use dance at the school where I work. I have used these teaching techniques in our Dance & Storytelling program; one-on-one with students who have diverse needs, such as anxiety, anger, trauma, etc., I am now teaching a weekly class on dance, and I will also be returning to Physical Education classes to teach hoop dancing and other dances. I have been able to adapt what I learned in Santa Fe to the people and situations in my life, making dance relevant to each person, student, or class.
This journey over the past six months reminds me of what my hoop dance teacher taught me about native culture – it is a living thing, always changing. Cree author and artist Floyd Favel says about Plains Cree philosophy:
“Movement, in Cree, waskawewin, defines life. When somebody dies they stop moving, aponwaskawecik. If you asked "What is life?" A simple explanation using the Cree language would be that life is movement” (Forsythe).
If we are using this fundamental belief of native philosophy in our dance practices, they will always change and evolve. In this way, we are always dancing into new territory. It is a humble remembrance to think of all the people who danced before us so that we could be here today.
P.S. This summer I will be helping teach a First Nations Art and Dance Summer Camp, more information will be available soon, here: http://www.casalethbridge.ca/
James Forsythe . “THE PLAINS CREE GROTOWSKI”. Brandon University. http://www3.brandonu.ca/library/CJNS/21.2/cjnsv21no2_pg355-366.pdf
Dancing Earth’s Website: http://www.dancingearth.org/
Travel Funding from Alberta Foundation for the Arts.