The World of American Indian Dance

      A one-hour documentary produced by The Oneida Indian Nation in partnership with Sonny Skyhawk (Lakota) and Dan Jones (Ponca) The first ever American Indian-produced documentary to air on a major television network NBC, The World of American Indian Dance introduces audiences to the beauty, athleticism, and competitive spirit of American Indian dance.  Actor Peter Coyote provides a stirring narration. The Oneida Indian Nation is a federally recognized Indian nation in Central New York.

      Executive producer Dan Jones says,  “American Indian dance is this continent’s oldest cultural tradition, with many of the country’s 550 tribes and nations hosting gatherings commonly called ‘powwows,’ which are growing in popularity as both cultural and sporting events.  Some powwows boast attendance of more than 50,000, such as Crow Fair in Montana, where we shot over 40 hours of dance footage and interviews.” 

      Against this historic and spectacularly beautiful backdrop, the compelling story of America’s first “performance artists” is told through dance.  Throughout its history, dance has fortified and sustained American Indians.  It has also been the prism through which age-old rivalries have been played out and where such modern conflicts as progress vs. tradition; spirituality vs. commerce, and independence vs. assimilation continue to be dramatically expressed.

      Traditional dance styles, developed thousands of years ago, distinguish tribes from one another and hold the key to tribal legacies.  Whether inspired by revered animals, sacred places, or belief systems, American Indian dances span the gamut of human emotion and expression. 

      These beautiful, energetic dances require the skill of an Olympic athlete, as powwow contestants must adhere to rigorous protocols to win championships.  Sports fans can look at these dancers as the direct descendants of America’s  ‘original home team,’ carrying on a competitive tradition that dates back many centuries.

      Also explored in the documentary is the clash of traditional vs. more modern styles of dancing and the lifestyles that reflect each distinct approach.  As in any culture, young American Indians, to a certain degree, have abandoned the more traditional dance styles, preferring less restrictive, more interpretive dances including the Fancy Shawl Dance, the Jingle Dress Dance and the Men’s Fancy Dance.  Many tribal elders are wary over the more flashy and secular aspects of the newer dances.  But others point to the increased attendance and participation of youth as a sign that the injection of the newer dance forms is re-invigorating the American Indian dance scene.

See the trailer here