Arts·The Move

Can you dance after breaking both your legs? Santee Smith healed through ballet and Indigenous dance

"My whole life really is about learning how to move." Smith shows us the woman's shuffle in The Move: Season II.

'My whole life really is about learning how to move'

Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith is a choreographer from Six Nations and will become Chancellor at McMaster University in the fall.  She shares her incredible story of dance as both rehabilitation and reclamation and performs an excerpt from her show Blood Tides in The Move: Season II.

Can you imagine learning to dance after breaking both your legs? For choreographer Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith, that was her reality. After breaking both legs in an accident when she was a child, her parents enrolled her in ballet as a form of rehabilitation. But after six years at Canada's National Ballet School and plenty of other training, she felt like something was missing.

I was replicating and telling stories that were outside of my culture and that grew weary after awhile. I wanted to be able to tell my stories.- Santee Smith

In this episode she shows us "the woman's shuffle" — an empowered dance that celebrates women as sustainers of life while illustrating the earth's creation story. She also performs an excerpt of original choreography from her show Blood Tides produced by Kaha:wi Dance Theatre. For Santee, diving fully into Indigenous contemporary dance was necessary but daunting — forcing her through a deep and ongoing process of un-learning and re-learning.

"The balletic form generally is about escaping the earth and being uplifted, which is opposite to my Indigenous dance which is being as close to the ground as possible. So it's pretty much the opposite."

This piece features original music from the Blood Tides score, composed/arranged by Cris Derksen, with vocals from Pura Fé and Semiah Kaha:wi Smith and additional music by Adrian Dion Harjo and Jo'el Komene.

Eight of Canada's top choreographers share their astonishing moves — and the incredible stories behind why they dance in The Move: Season II. Find out more and stream the full series now on CBC Gem.

About the Author

Lucius Dechausay is a video producer at CBC Arts, as well as a freelance illustrator and filmmaker. His short films and animations have been screened at a number of festivals including The Toronto International Film Festival and Hot Docs. Most recently he directed KETTLE, which is currently streaming at CBC Short Docs.