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PHOENIX — Kenneth Shirley never thought his dance group would be able to top the thrill of appearing on NBC’s “World of Dance.” He was wrong.
Shirley is the chief executive officer of Indigenous Enterprise, a Phoenix-based Native American dance troupe, which was featured during the parade for President Joe Biden’s inauguration Wednesday. Shirley and his group appeared in a segment called "Dance Across America," which featured dancers from all over the U.S.
The segment was put together by Kenny Ortega, who has choreographed for the likes of Michael Jackson and directed the “High School Musical” films for Disney.
Shirley told Patch that Ortega saw Indigenous Enterprise on “World of Dance” last year and called to include them on Inauguration Day, propelling the group to a global stage. Indigenous Enterprise filmed a short freestyle dance at South Mountain and sent it to Ortega and his team about two weeks ago. A few seconds of the dance were featured during the virtual parade, set to “Dancing in the Streets” by Martha and the Vandellas.
“My friends from Australia, from the U.K. and London stayed up to watch it,” Shirley said. “It wasn’t just in the United States. It was all over the world.”
Indigenous Enterprise started in 2015 and boasts Indigenous dancers from tribes all over the country with a mission to preserve Native American culture through dance. It also has a clothing line and produces documentaries, including a recent one about how Native Americans helped turn Arizona blue in the November election.
It has collaborated with the Black Eyed Peas and traveled to Australia to perform at the Sydney Opera House. But Shirley said the group has had to pivot to alternative forms of creativity after the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to much of the group’s planned performances in 2020 and 2021, including a U.K. tour.
Having Indigenous culture included in a big national event feels important, Shirley said.
“Oftentimes we get left out and not really included in big events like that, so I think it’s cool that the people putting [the inauguration] together wanted to include some Indigenous culture,” he said. “I think it's important for people in the world to know that the U.S. is Indigenous land, and Native Americans, we’re here.”
Shirley said he’s hopeful that the Biden administration will live up to its pledge to be inclusive and representative for all Americans. He’s off to a good start, according to Shirley, with the halting of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline one of Biden’s first acts as president. The oil pipeline would have run through Native American reservations in Montana.
“A couple of hours in, he already did something good for Native Americans,” Shirley said.