Feature Film About Life of a Pow Wow Fancy Dancer Begins Filming This Summer

By Scott Barta, Indian Country Today Media Network

The first of its kind Hollywood film about American Indian life on the pow wow circuit is tentatively set to begin filming this July. The story will follow the life of a young men’s fancy dance contestant who travels and competes at pow wows held in Native communities across the Plains and Southwest. The production entitled, Dance Hard, is a behind-the-scenes look at pow-wow life and will take approximately four weeks to film. The film project will be employing local tradespeople and casting and lead actors and extras from among fresh, new local talent from many states, including New Mexico, South Dakota, and Montana, as well as Canada.

The writer, producer, and director of the project is Megan Clare Johnson, owner of the film production company Mama Simba Films, based in Los Angeles. She recently finished directing and producing a feature film she wrote called Stealing Roses, a comedy/drama about a couple struggling in a health care crisis. The film stars actors John Heard and Cindy Williams and is to be released ilater this year. Joining Johnson is producer Steve Beswick of POV Pictures, also based in Los Angeles.. Beswick is known for his work on the films The Hole, Starship Troopers 3, and Legion.

“We are extremely pleased to be the first filmmakers to cover such an amazing and thrilling American Indian art form and bring it into the living rooms and theaters of the American people.” said Beswick. “We will be employing local talent and featuring new faces on the big screen who are from the reservations in and near the states of New Mexico, South Dakota and Montana.”

The fancy dance is a most vibrant and crowd-pleasing category, featuring remarkably athletic and agile dancers who not only keep perfect beat but also can stop with the drum at anytime the singers decide to stop the beat. Three or more consecutive songs, lasting four minutes in length, are often sung for the fancy dancers so that selected judges can decide which order to place the winners based upon their talent, performance and overall dance aura.

In the film, an indigenous young man and his adopted non-Indian, Caucasian brother leave their Indian reservation and travel the country trying to make money for college as they compete in the summer pow wow dance competitions. On the road they confront relationships, bigotry, love and the different paths each must take.The film will also highlight reservation basketball (“rez ball”), as the two play and attend various games during their travels.

The producers are excited to be working with an expert and primary consultant on pow wows, Norman Roach, who hails from the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota.

Roach was a fancy dance champion as a junior boy (ages 7-12), a teen (ages 13-17), and as an adult. He was a dancer and choreographer for years with the American Indian Dance Theater group that traveled the United States and numerous foreign countries sharing the various dances of Native nations. Roach was featured in the PBS Dance in America series and also in the American Indian Dance Theater production of Finding the Circle.

“I am honored to provide consultation for the making of this important film that will reveal to the citizens of the United States what magnificent talent and culture exists just outside their doors upon this Great Turtle Island.” said Roach, who is also an accomplished flute player and hoop dancer.

Norman Roach
Norman Roach


Roach is also known for his successful three-year direction of the only major pow wow to be held within the sacred Black Hills, the heart and center of the Lakota Nation and peoples. The NAHA Pow Wow brought in many champion dancers and drums to gorunds just south of Rapid City, South Dakota.  Roach was also instrumental in the founding of the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, the largest in North America held each year in April in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Roach is joined as a consultant by Robert “Tree” Cody, an enrolled member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community from Arizona, currently residing in Big Bear, California. Tree, given the name due to his 6′ 10” frame, is an expert flute player, winning Grammy award nominations and Native American Music Awards during his career. Cody has been a pow wow dancer since 1958 in fancy (believed to be the world’s tallest fancy dancer) and other categories.

Robert "Tree" Cody, master Native American flute player
Robert “Tree” Cody, master Native American flute player


Cody was featured playing his flute in an episode of the PBS series Reading Rainbow, entitled “The Gift of the Sacred Dog,” which was based on the book by Paul Goble. It was filmed at Montana’s Crow Reservation on June 17, 1983. He has released many albums with Canyon Records and has toured throughout the Americas, Europe, and East Asia. He performed the traditional carved wooden flute on several tracks of The Rippingtons’s 1999 album Topaz. His resume also includes a performance with Xavier Quijas Yxayotl, a master of Mayan and Aztec music, for the 2000 album Crossroads. Cody is also an excellent singer and pow-wow drummer. Both he and Roach have been on the pow wow “trail” since the late 1950s.

“Mr. Roach and Mr. Cody are essential for the success of this production.” said Johnson. “With their knowledge and expertise the story to be portrayed will undoubtedly be most authentic and appropriate, sharing on the screen such a rich and beautiful way of life.”

To learn more about the Dance Hard film project, click here.


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