/students/kc-connections/series/2700fst/2018-2019/190425-evs-dancing-earth-indigenous contemporary-dance-creations

Dancing Earth Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations

with Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Rulan Tangen

Grades 5-12, Millennium Stage, April 25, 2019

Dancing Earth Indigenous Contemporary Dance Creations, with Founding Director, Choreographer, and Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow, Rulan Tangen, present an exciting, interactive, “behind the scenes” peek at their performance SEEDS: RE GENERATION. Students will get to meet the intertribal Indigenous dancers whose performance art reflects the cultural heritage of Native America and indigenous global cultures. Each artist will lead different activities that may include movement, song, learning a few words in Apache and Dine languages, visual art, or possible surprise activities with seeds! Through these real life, inviting, interactivities, our artists counter stereotypes and under-represented histories, while inspiring students to unearth connections between current socio-environmental landscapes and their own origins, histories, varied cultural backgrounds, languages, homelands, foods, and “seeds” of hope, resilience, and solidarity.

Student Guide

“I truly believe that the greatest gift that we as humans can do to support the health of the earth begins with movement. Starting every day with expanding one’s breath and range of motion, circling the limbs with gratitude for the form we have—indoors or outdoors, getting into one’s body. From that as a starting place, you will grow the instinct, intuition, and imagination to know what to DO or not DO, that is in alignment with all living beings.”
Rulan Tangen, Founder and Artistic Director of Dancing Earth

Rulan Tangen’s assertion is woven throughout the contemporary dance performance ...SEEDS: RE GENERATION…. Members of Dancing Earth—representing more than a dozen First Nations—are dancing the narrative of their peoples, blending history and myth, resilience and vision.

For many First Nations in the Americas and worldwide, their histories and lore were buried or distorted after colonists and settlers took their ancestral lands and tried to erase these conquered cultures with attempted conquest. In the Americas and beyond, those cultures—from the Piscataway in the East to the Inuit in the Arctic North to the Kanaka Maoli in Hawaii to the Mapuche in the South—demonstrated resilience, surviving nothing less than attempted genocide.

Sadly, many narratives, from Cowboy and Indian movies to scholarly histories, have portrayed native peoples as relics of the past. But members of these same Indigenous groups are happy to respond: “Hey. We’re still here. Respect.” Today, activists and artists with Indigenous roots are resurrecting the stories and traditions of their people and nurturing them anew. They are recalling the ways of their elders, reclaiming agency in the present, and reimagining a thriving future not just for their peoples, but for humanity as a whole.

Dancing Earth demonstrates these aspirations front and center. This production, ...SEEDS: RE GENERATION…, incorporates movement, music, and a full-range of sensory experiences to “re-story” inter-tribal concepts about land, water, sky, life, and the myriad ways the natural and human worlds circle, dance, collide, and connect especially through food systems that teach us about reciprocal nourishment. It also captures the metaphoric understanding of us as “seeds of our ancestors,” carrying responsibility for future generations with our actions.

Dancing Earth artist/members are in-motion reminders that yes, their people are here, always were, and they have some keen insights about what’s going on—the past as hopeful preview. As a voice says during the performance: “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.”

To learn more about the company and the performance, check out the study guide created by Dancing Earth:

Teacher & Parent Guide

Parents, Teachers, and Caregivers: Get the Conversation Going

In 2018, New Mexico elected Deb Haaland, a member of the Pueblo of Laguna Nation, to the U.S. House of Representatives. Voters in a Kansas district chose Sharice Davids of the Ho-Chunk Nation to be their representative in Washington, D.C. They are the first two Native American women ever elected to the U.S. Congress. They are also examples of a changing narrative that native peoples are creating for themselves.

Textbooks, published histories, and old movies can make it seem like Native American history ended with the driving of “Indians” onto reservations in the 19th century or the Massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890. Fortunately, however, the unjust and at times criminal treatment of native peoples—past and present—continues to be revealed and documented. And better yet--not only are these narratives being told more widely--there is a wider audience ready to listen.

More Native American writers, historians, filmmakers, and artists are emerging to present an updated and more complete version of their lives and cultures. Native rights advocates are also pushing back against continued efforts to exploit their ancestral lands. “If you want to own it, you have to act like you own it,” Kelly Brown told The New York Times. Brown is the director of resource management for the Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia.

Among these artists and advocates are members of Dancing Earth™, the contemporary dance troupe led by dancer, choreographer, and artistic director Rulan Tangen. Their performance of …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… is a present-day expression of, and tribute to, First Nation traditions and relationships with the earth, life, and rebirth.

The information in this Grownup Guide will enable you to “get the conversation going” with your young performance goers—before and after the show.

The Human Journey

The dance performance …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… is one in a series of programs in The Human Journey, a season-long artistic collaboration among The Kennedy Center, National Geographic Society, and National Gallery of Art. These identified performances and exhibits invite audiences to investigate human experience through the performing arts, science, and visual art.

…SEEDS: RE GENERATION… emphasizes two main themes that form the framework for The Human Journey project—namely identity and resilience.

Identity relates to how we see ourselves and others, and how we form and apply ideas about who we are. In …SEEDS: RE GENERATION…, the performers emphasize their larger cultural identity, especially in regard to their peoples’ relationship with the natural world. Rebuilding and reclaiming their beliefs and identities as cultural communities unites individuals in common cause.

Resilience describes our ability to endure and function, especially under pressure, stress, or threat. One theme in …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… is the capacity of First Nations to survive and revive in the aftermath of physical and cultural conquest, and governmental and institutional efforts to extinguish them and their ways.

Many American school children still learn outdated versions of Native American history and culture, where “Indians” serve as extras in the drama of European colonization. One of the overarching purposes of The Human Journey series is to illuminate each other’s paths so we might see the many ways our journeys intertwine, as well as what makes them unique.


Along with young audience members, discuss and decide how they want to prepare for attending …SEEDS: RE GENERATION…. First stop, ask: What do they already know about First Nations and Native Americans? What more would they like to learn? Do they want to know more about the history of native peoples in your area? Are they interested in current political issues affecting First Nations? Do they want to learn more about contemporary dance? Would they like to take an online tour of the Kennedy Center?

Consider following their lead on how they want to prepare, from theater etiquette and genres of dance to background research on cultural history to themes in …SEEDS: RE GENERATION….

Here is a glossary of key terms that will help young people in understanding the performance:

First Nation: The general term for the original people of a land.

Contemporary Dance: A genre of dance performance that emphasizes fluid and improvisational expression of mind and body. It combines elements of modern, jazz, lyrical, and classical ballet.

Indians: The term mistakenly given to native peoples of the Americas by the first European colonizers; they mistakenly believed they had sailed to India. Some native peoples reject the term “American Indian,” others accept it. The same is true for “Native American.” As a rule, native peoples prefer to use the specific names of their nation, such as Piscataway, Lakota, Iroquois, etc.

Indigenous: Being native to a land.

Pow Wow: A social gathering of First Nation communities that celebrates their traditions and cultures, including music, dance, dress, and food.

Treaty: An official agreement between nations.

Here are things to look and listen for during the performance:

Interpreting dance performance often benefits from a willingness to suspend traditional ideas about narratives. For …SEEDS: RE GENERATION…, we can pause our more critical minds and open ourselves to our senses, impressions, and emotions. With this in mind, check out:

  • Ways the performance engages the five senses—sight, sound, touch, scent, and taste.
  • Repeated patterns of motion, like raised fists, and what they may signify.
  • Colors and patterns and what they may symbolize.
  • How earthly elements like seeds, land, water, and air are personified and performed.
  • The purpose and symbolism of the “six directions” during the performance.
  • The experience and significance of many different languages being spoken.
  • Ways emotions are expressed with entire bodies as well as facial expressions.
  • How the production uses contrasts to create and intensify moods onstage—dark and light, loud and soft, slow and fast, fluid and rigid.
  • How the dancers interact with the audience and draw them into the performance.


Collaborate with young audience members to determine how they want to process the performance afterward. Let them brainstorm ways to get the most out of the experience and make the subject relevant to them.

To set the tone for discussions with young people, consider sharing something from your personal experience that relates to the performance and its themes. The intention is to start conversations and keep them going.

You can use open-ended questions to help your young people spot information they may have overlooked, to dive deeper into the performance’s content and themes, and engage with potentially controversial content that may come up in discussions, such as issues of race and stereotypes. When necessary, encourage them to back up their interpretations or views with supporting evidence from the performance itself or a trustworthy third-party source.

Here are several open-ended points of discussion to consider:

The title of the show is ...SEEDS: RE GENERATION….

  • What are words and ideas that come to mind when you think of seeds?
  • What do you know about Indigenous peoples? What would you like to learn?
  • Have young people describe elements of the production—the lighting, costumes, props, and music/soundscape.
  • As a collaborative exercise, recount the scenes in the performance: What got your attention or surprised you?
  • How did you feel and respond when performers called on the audience to participate?
  • How did the performance affect all five senses?

Here are some suggestions for young people to think about:

One of the central themes of …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… is the idea of stories and the power wielded by the people telling them. With that idea in mind, think about:

  • What makes a good story, in your opinion? Why might two people tell the same story in different ways?
  • How do we use stories to explain or make sense of life? How can stories be purposed to influence others?
  • While watching the performance, compare and contrast dancing a story and telling a story. What might dancing express that words cannot?
  • First Nations have cultivated and maintained traditions and beliefs that bond them to the natural world and with their communities. Do you have rituals—formal or casual—that bond you to your environment or community?
  • The concept of ancestral homelands has powerful meaning for many First Nations people. Does your family have what it considers ancestral homelands? (You may have more than one.) Does this homeland have any influence on your identity?

Here are some activities designed to help young people connect with …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… and beyond:

  • Plant a seed in good soil. Care for it with water and sunlight. Write haiku or other reflections describing the experience of watching the natural process of a seed transforming into something else.
  • If you have space and a place, consider planting a tree as a promise to the future. Research what trees grow best in your soil and climate, and what they need to survive and thrive.
  • Many of the costumes in …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… are crafted from old T-shirts that have been recycled and repurposed as a mindful practice of reducing waste. Use your imagination to come up with ways to give a fading piece of clothing new life as a bracelet, headband, dish towel, or other purpose.
  • Use the following links to find out what native peoples once lived where you now call home. Research their history and create a multimedia presentation or other report about who they were, aspects of their culture and history, and when and why they may have left. “This Map Shows You Which Indigenous Lands You’re Living On” by Heather Dockray. Mashable, October 8, 2018.
  • If you are interested in Native American culture but are unsure how to engage it respectfully, you can find a helpful guide here: “7 Thoughtful Ways to be an Ally to Native Americans on Thanksgiving (and Beyond)” by Katie Dupere. Mashable, November 26, 2015.

Creating art and writing are ways to turn random thoughts into focused ideas. Here are ways to motivate young people to respond creatively to the performance:

  • Earth. Water. Air. Seeds. Plants. What dance moves or body movements would you use to portray them? If you feel too shy to work them in public, find a private place to express your thoughts and feelings with movement.
  • Choose one of the natural elements present in the performance and create a work of art—a collage, drawing, or painting.
  • In Scene 2A, the dancers appear in costumes adorned with personal and cultural symbols. These symbols represent unique stories that are in their bodies, hearts, minds, and spirits. With the help of a friend, trace a silhouette of your body on a large piece of paper. Decorate it with words, colors, patterns, memories, and images that are elemental to who you are.
  • Choose one of the scenes from …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… and use your writing skills to craft its story into a poem or narrative.

And finally, keep the discussion current:

…SEEDS: RE GENERATION… portrays the role of resistance in protecting the earth, its environment, and its meaning. First Nations activists have been leaders in defending their ancestral lands from development, exploitation, and degradation. Here are three contemporary/ongoing battles to explore and discuss:

Oak Flats
In 2014, the U.S. government traded away this federal land in Arizona to a mining company. That same area is culturally important to the San Carlos Apache and other native peoples of the region. Environmentalists and native-rights activists have strongly opposed the mine’s development and are monitoring its impact on the water, land, and sacred sites. To learn more: "Native Americans Hope to Protect Ancestral Sites Threatened by Multibillion-Dollar Copper Mine" by Daisy Finch.

Mauna Kea
Plans to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea—the highest point in the Hawai’ian islands—was given the go-ahead by the Hawai’i Supreme Court in 2018. The volcanic mountain is already the site of more than a dozen observatories, but is also a sacred site to Kanaka Maoli (native Hawai’ians) as well as a conservation district. Plans for the new telescope and its infrastructure have triggered widespread environmental protests. To learn more: "Native Hawaiian Activists: We'll Keep Fighting Thirty-Meter Telescope" by Cecily Hilleary.

Standing Rock
Efforts to build the Dakota Access pipeline (DAPL) became a flashpoint about the rights of First Nations. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shifted the proposed oil pipeline away from Bismarck, the capital of North Dakota, toward Standing Rock, encroaching on traditional burial sites and threatening the water supply of native communities. Resistance to the project drew activists from around the country and received international media coverage as peaceful protestors were attacked by law enforcement. To learn more: "'Our History is the Future' Puts Standing Rock in Broader Native American Story" by Nicholas Cannariato.


Visit: dancingearth.org/seeds-regeneration-2019

Native America. PBS, October 2018. A series that explores past and present of First Nations peoples.

“Old Treaties and New Alliances Empower Native Americans” by Kirk Johnson. The New York Times, November 15, 2016. Examples of native efforts to control their ancestral lands and resources.

“What Does It Mean to Be a Native American Today?” The New York Times Op-Doc, March 1, 2018. Young people speak about their lived experience as native people in the United States.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz. Boston: Beacon Press, 2014. A scholarly history of the country from the perspective of its original people.



Sean McCollum
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Lisa Resnick
Content Editor

Tiffany Bryant
Assistant Manager, Audience Enrichment

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

Top Photo: Paulo T Photography


…SEEDS: RE GENERATION… is part of the Kennedy Center's Human Journey kennedy-center.org/humanjourney

The Human Journey is a collaboration between The Kennedy Center, National Geographic Society, and the National Gallery of Art, which invites audiences to investigate the powerful experiences of migration, exploration, identity, and resilience through the lenses of the performing arts, science, and visual art.


David M. Rubenstein

Deborah F. Rutter

Mario R. Rossero
Senior Vice President

Major support for educational programs at the Kennedy Center is provided by David M. Rubenstein through the Rubenstein Arts Access Program.


The presentation of …SEEDS: RE GENERATION… by Dancing Earth Creations was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee for the Performing Arts.

The contents of this Guide have been developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education. You should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

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