Dancing Close to the Earth

Our first port of call on our Midwest portion of the filming was Wisconsin, where we traveled to the independent nation of Oneida. Here, we were met by representatives of several Native American tribes--Ojibway, Menominee, Oneida--to create a special dance for the film.

Summer Sky Cohen, the choreographer, and Dona Yahola, the local production coordinator, brought the dancers together and organized the shoot at the Oneida Nation's Norbert Hill Center, with the approval of the tribal council. Some seven dancers--five women and two men--performed the dance which included aspects of Eagle dance, Fancy Dance, and Jingle dance.

With the council's permission, we were able to shoot the dance with a drone as well as the on-the-ground footage. We were also able to film dance solo segments, highlighting the dancers' special skills.

After we wrapped, we shared an Oneida feast, with a thick soup of hominy corn and meat, and with traditional corn bread and a very refreshing drink made from pureed strawberries. Caterer Jamie Betters specializes in such authentic fare.

It was illuminating to learn parts of the culture and stories of the various tribes, and to hear about their various languages.

With the brilliant regalia and flowing movement, the dancers created a stunning reminder of the richness of their heritage, and the spiritual values that are intrinsic to their way of life. They are preserving the ancient ways of their ancestors, while reaching out to help youth inherit and benefit from that knowledge.

These "Close to the Earth" dancers wove a powerful lesson into the process of the filming for us. They explained many of the underlying values of their culture: that there is no separation between Spirit and the practical, for instance. Also, the language of the tribe often contains rich layers of meaning--that when one describes the taste of blueberry pie, the word includes the texture and process of the cooking as well as the flavor. We were honored to have this strong and dynamic group become a part of this film.

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