Indigenous Enterprise Brings Traditional Dance—And Style—to New York

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The dances are beautiful to behold on their own, but equally spellbinding is the colorful regalia that the dancers wear to perform them. Every piece of beadwork, quillwork, and featherwork that adorns them is embedded with special meaning. “We all wear eagle feathers on top,” says Lodgepole. “The eagle is the highest-flying bird in the world, and when we dance with a prayer in mind, those eagle feathers carry those thoughts and energy up to the creator.” Many of the ensembles are made by the dancers’ friends and family; Lodgepole’s beadwork was done by his parents and modeled after a design that his great-grandmother made. “I built in a more modern flair to it—I got to pick my own colors,” he says. Shirley, on the other hand, wears two feathered bustles and beaded regalia made by his friend Nathan Largo.

Tyrenn Lodgepole.

Photo: Danny Upshaw

Red Elk wears two exquisite dresses in the show. To perform her first short fringe traditional dance, she dons a short fringed buckskin dress that’s more than 100 years old. “It’s a family heirloom. It comes from a line of Plateau high-steppers at a time when we were not allowed to do these dances anymore. A lot of ladies buried trunks of regalia in the ground so that they wouldn’t be taken away—this dress is one of those.” For her jingle dress dance, she switches into a jingle dress, embellished with rows of metal cones. “It’s a really contemporary, really loud dress,” says Red Elk. “All dances and all music evolves with the times, and so does the fashion. The regalia gets to be fancier and fancier every decade.”

While “Indigenous Liberation” finishes its New York run at the end of week, its dancers plan to continue carrying forward their traditions and introducing them to new audiences around the globe. “New York City is full of culture, and to be able to bring our Native American culture to it—it feels good to be that representation,” says Lodgepole. “We strive off that type of energy.” The dancers agree that their art is bigger than themselves. “We’re showing you our dances, but we’re also telling you our history,” says Red Elk. “We’re showing that we are still here, and that our culture is still thriving—even after they tried their hardest to take that away from us.”

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