In 2012 a ballet depicting the story of the Osage people was produced and performed. The creator’s vision was to take a video of the ballet to children in tribes across the country in hopes of inspiring them to achieve their artistic endeavors. The ballet was received so well that they were asked to perform again.
Since its humble beginnings Wahzhazhe has been performed in many locations including the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Tulsa PAC in Oklahoma and at Festival of Families in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the Papal visit.
Choreographer, Jenna Smith is a classically trained ballet dancer with a Bachelor’s degree in Dance from Oral Roberts University, and is the choreographer of Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet, which was recently performed in Rolla, Missouri, on September 8, 2017, in celebration of the unveiling of a bronze statue of an Osage family on September 9, 2017 in Cuba, Missouri.
You may wonder why Osage people are interested in ballet. Two of the five famous American Indian ballerinas are Osage. Maria Tallchief and her sister Marjorie Tallchief. Because of the success of Wahzhazhe, local community members asked Ms. Smith to open a ballet school to train a new generation of dancers in previously underserved rural Osage County.
Smith said, “We saw a high level of interest in Osage County, and wanted to cultivate and nurture ballet talent as our way of carrying on the legacy of America’s first Prima Ballerina, Maria Tallchief and her sister, Marjorie Tallchief.”
She hopes to train future professional ballet dancers who will leave a positive mark such as Maria and Marjorie Tallchief did.
In 2014 with the help of donations from many, including, the Osage Foundation, Osage Casinos, Mike and Bette Graves, Charles Wickstrom, George and Carol Tinker III, the Pawhuska Community Foundation, the Kerr Foundation, and Enbridge, Dance Maker Academy, a state of the art facility, opened in 2014 with 44 students and currently has close to 100 students, 9 of them are boys! Dance Maker offers ballet, tap, hip-hop and jazz dance classes to students of all ages and levels of expertise, Pilates and Yoga. Beginning in 2018, Drama Classes are offered. Will and Anne Baker, Jr. and Artists of Indian America currently fund classes for the upper level male dancers.
In 2016 Jenna was a recipient of a $10,000 Dreamstarter grant from Billy Mills and Running Strong for American Indian Youth. She has invested all of the grant funds into efforts to bring dance into the local public school system. They have reached over 1400 children so far. Her dream is that all the children in her community be able to experience dance.
Smith presented The Nutcracker Ballet in December, 2017 at the Constantine Theater in Pawhuska, Oklahoma.
Smith said, “We produced The Nutcracker Ballet as part of our passion for arts education in the school system. We would like to continue to do multiple performances every December and bring every school-aged child to the Constantine to see the ballet.”