Indigenous company brings traditional dance and style to New York

Over the past six years, Indigenous Enterprise, an aboriginal dance troupe of eight traditional powwow dancers, has toured the world and shared the beauty of their culture with others. The group was founded by Kenneth Shirley, a male Diné wardancer, and the ensemble performed together at the Sydney Opera House in Australia, on the TV show dance world, and even as part of the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden. Wherever they stop, the group arrives armed with their striking insignia and a distinctive mission: to represent their people. “When we were overseas in Australia, it was the first time a lot of people saw a Native American,” says Shirley. “We want to show what real Indigenous people look like, not the negative Hollywood stereotypes.”

The band’s latest engagement is a week-long show at the Joyce Theater in New York City, which runs until November 14. The Northern Cree, the Wild Comanche Band and Bull Horn. The opening and closing numbers of the show, for example, see all the dancers perform simultaneously on stage: there are male wardancers, a jingle dress dancer, a hoop dancer, a chicken dancer, a fancy shawl dancer and a grass dancer. It’s like a condensed powwow ceremony, but for an audience that may not be familiar with the different dances and meanings of the culture. “In powwows,” says Acosia Red Elk, a dancer from the Umatilla tribe, “we’re there with all the other dancers, and we celebrate our songs and our dances with many different tribes, but it’s also a competition. In this case, we are not in competition; we share what our culture looks like, and in a sophisticated way.

Nathaniel Slik Nez, Acosia Red Elk, Kenneth Shirley and Tyrenn Lodgepole.

Photo: Steven Pisano

Colleen D. Ervin