7 Must-Read Dance Books to Celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month
November 26, 2021

Whether it’s the tale of a Hopi child preparing for her first butterfly dance or the story of Jenna, a Muscogee (Creek) girl in Oklahoma who dreams of doing the jingle dress dance at the next powwow, there are so many dance books that you can explore with your young dancers during National American Indian Heritage Month.

Here are seven of Dance Teacher’s top picks that celebrate the rich history, culture and movement traditions of Indigenous communities.

Josie Dances, by Denise Lajimodiere and Illustrator Angela Erdrich
With detailed painted illustrations, Josie Dances shares a story from the Turtle Mountain reservation community of North Dakota. Josie eagerly and patiently plans for the upcoming powwow. With the help of her mother, aunty and grandmother, the family lovingly constructs her powwow outfit, and her grandmother dreams of Josie’s spirit name. Months and seasons pass by, and the time has come for the powwow. Her spirit name appears: Migiziinsikwe, Young Eagle Woman. The time has come for Josie to join the dance and soar. This book is available in hardcover, and you can also watch the author, Denise Lajimodiere, reading the book in a YouTube video here.

The Hoop Dancer’s Teachings, by Teddy Anderson and Illustrator Jessika von Innerebner
Hoop dances are a part of many First Nations people, and dancer Teddy Anderson has created this rhyming book for little ones between age 4 and 6 so they can learn the core ideas and symbolism of the hoop dance. Anderson also describes the universal themes of peace, harmony and connection in this book. To enjoy a reading of the story and for more information and images of hoop dances, watch this video.

Jingle Dancer, by Cynthia Leitich Smith and Illustrators Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu
This award-winning picture book tells the story of Jenna, a Muscogee (Creek) girl in Oklahoma, who dreams of doing the jingle dance at the next powwow. But Jenna’s dress doesn’t have the special jingles to make the essential sounds for the dance. And so she heads out into the neighborhood to visit family members and friends, kindly asking them to borrow a row of jingles from their own dresses in order to make four rows on her dress. Everyone generously offers up jingles and asks that she “dance for them” at the next powwow. Jenna’s dreams come to fruition and indeed she dances the jingle dance. You can enjoy the story being read aloud here. This book has been republished this year with added notes and supplemental material, and it will also pair nicely with your reading of Josie Dances. Available in both hardcover and paperback.

The Butterfly Dance, by Gerald Dawavendewa
Sihumana is a Hopi child preparing for her first butterfly dance. Author and illustrator Dawavendewa offers playful drawings of all of the characters as animals, each correlating to animal clans. The butterfly dance is performed to bring forth the rain to help the crops, and to bring forth the butterflies. The Butterfly Dance is a sweet tale of preparation, anticipation and participation. The book is available in hardcover, and you can also access a read-aloud video here.

Stories of Indigenous Ballerina Maria Tallchief: Three Books
Maria Tallchief (1925–2013), of Osage Nation heritage, was America’s first prima ballerina. 

In Chelsea Clinton’s 2017 picture book She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World, Tallchief is one of the 13 incredible women spotlighted. Enjoy this book with your dancers to hold Tallchief in context amongst other innovators, leaders and activists. After the success of this picture book, many subsequent chapter books came out about these women, including Christine Day’s book for elementary-age students about Tallchief and Catherine Gourley’s Who Was Maria Tallchief?

Why not read these books one chapter at a time over several classes with your students? Your dancers are sure to love learning about Tallchief’s journey to fame as a prima ballerina, right from her childhood to her career with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, George Balanchine and the New York City Ballet. 

To access amazing clips of Tallchief, visit Jacob’s Pillow Interactive and YouTube.

She Persisted: 13 American Women Who Changed the World
Available in hardback, e-book, audiobook and read-aloud video

She Persisted: Maria Tallchief
Available in hardback, paperback, e-book and audiobook

Who Was Maria Tallchief?
Available in paperback, e-book and audiobook

Recommended Reading for Dance Teachers and Studio Owners

  • Spend some time on the Native Land Digital website to learn more about where you live, the Indigenous people of your community and land acknowledgments.
  • Learn more about National American Indian Heritage Month in particular on the First Nations Institute website.
  • Read the book University of California, Riverside, dance professor Jacqueline Shea Murphy wrote, called The People Have Never Stopped Dancing: Native American Modern Dance Histories.
  • Explore the Dance Research Journal issue entitled “Indigenous Dance Today.” You can access the articles for free and online here.

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