ARLEE – If dancing is a universal language, a man from Arlee has a lot to say.
Along the way, he’s helped promote his people to a world that shares a passion for preserving customs and traditions in a modern world.
Louie Plant Sr. has traveled from China to Russia to Poland to New Zealand, representing the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes through his native dance.
“I never would have thought of this. I never would have thought of doing what I’ve done and being able to do what I’ve done. I just wanted to dance,” Plant said.
He’s been dancing since he can remember and through the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theater’s Ballet Beyond Borders program based in Missoula he’s performed at the 2008 Olympic Cultural Festival in China and at a presidential inauguration in Poland, bringing traditional fancy dancing to those who’ve never seen it.
“Shock and awe. I mean, just the sheer magnificence of the regalia. It makes a huge statement before he even dances,” said Rocky Mountain Ballet Theater President Charlene Campbell, who travels with Plant.
Often, she said, they’re the only Americans at competitions or festivals.
“What we do with the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theater is the role of the arts in global human communication,” Campbell said.
Plant carries bits of his own history on his regalia, from beadwork done by his mom to bits of his own history as a member of the Kootenai tribe. He’s also been taught to represent his people with honor wherever he goes.
“I’ve been told this time and time again — ever since I was a little kid — that I’m more than myself. I represent my Tribe and that’s an extension of my family, my community, my tribe, my state, my nation,” Plant said.
“Because I have to hold myself to a certain level of pride — not ego, but pride of who I am, where I’m from — my roots of being a member of the Flathead Nation,” he added.
Plant uses dance to keep his own Kootenai traditions alive, and as he and Campbell have discovered, that’s a universal concern.
“We discovered very quickly that the Tatar people are very concerned about losing their identity and language and customs in Tatarstan and being swallowed up by the Russian way everything Russian from Moscow,” Campbell. “And so they immediately identified of course with Louie and his performance because he’s also passionate about not just showcasing his life but preserving it.”
Plant’s days of competitive dancing are coming to an end. He suffers from severe diabetic nerve pain and while dancing can relieve the pain for a moment it’s a very physical activity and hard on his body.
But even when the dancing stops, what Plant has done for Native Americans in the world will continue, sharing the real story of a diverse people who often fall victim to stereotypes.
“We don’t fit a mold. Each of us is different in our own different way. And because of that, it’s beautiful and we are holding on to our traditions, living in two different worlds. We just want the world to know we exist,” Plant said.
Ballet Beyond Borders hosts its premier event in Missoula this January, bringing all kinds of dancers from around the world in a unique competition and exhibition. Click here for more information on the event.
By Jill Valley – MTN News