Students across the nation have studied the history of the Osage people in class, learning about one of the tribes of people who lived here long before the settlers arrived on the Eastern coast. However, as one Osage tribe member pointed out, this history wasn’t written from their perspective. Now the tribe is working to define history on their own terms, and sharing through the art of dance.

Students across the nation have studied the history of the Osage people in class, learning about one of the tribes of people who lived here long before the settlers arrived on the Eastern coast. However, as one Osage tribe member pointed out, this history wasn’t written from their perspective. Now the tribe is working to define history on their own terms, and sharing through the art of dance.

Leach Theatre and Missouri S&T played host to the cast and production team of “Wahzhazhe, an Osage Ballet,” allowing local residents to share and experience a culture through a show written by the people it represents.

Randy Tinker-Smith, an Osage tribeswoman, produced “Wahzhazhe, An Osage Ballet,” to gather the history of her tribe and convert it into a form that can not only be understood, but felt. With her daughter Jenna working as choreographer, she built the show from the ground up after being inspired.

“I was working at the Osage Tribal Museum, and my job was to enter 4000 photographs into a website,” she said. “Our main researcher had written some music for an exhibition called “The Journey,” said Tinker-Smith. “When I heard that music, I thought ‘that should be a ballet.’” Tinker-Smith added the researcher ended up writing about half of the music for the ballet.

The use of dance to express her people’s history was a natural development, as Tinker-Smith described the Osage as a naturally artistic people, who already express themselves everyday in some form of art, with ballet being prevalent.

“It’s common in our tribe,” she said. “Everyone my age, even men, have all taken ballet—we’re just an artistic tribe.” In addition to dance, Tinker-Smith said they continue to do ribbon work as well as cutwork and finger weaving.

Once the decision to create the ballet was made, Tinker-Smith said that historical accuracy was the most important thing.

“This is an opportunity for us to go out and define ourselves as Osage,” she said. “There’s all these textbooks written about us, but they’re not written by us. This is accurate.”

The show’s name, Wahzhazhe, is an original name for the Osage people, and the show strives to tell their story from their point of view. The story begins pre-contact, before the Europeans first stepped foot on the continent. Tinker-Smith said that as the story develops, the choreography shifts to reflect the changes happening to the Osage.

Tinker-Smith said the choreography at the opening of the show represents what she called the “different cadence” of the original Osage people. She described them as “still” and this is reflected in her daughters choreography.

“In the pre-contact scenes, the movements are very smooth and beautiful, and then when the Spanish come in . . . they’re harder and tougher.” Tinker-Smith said her daughter “really shows the feelings” of her people onstage.

Tinker-Smith said her daughter didn’t originally want to be a part of the show, or the ballet school she and her mother helped found on the reservation. However, after hearing the initial reluctance of the tribe’s elders to start the school, Jenna had a change of heart, and became determined to create something that would truly benefit the current Osage people.

The ballet school opened with 44 students, and has since risen to over 100, with many taking part in the touring “Wahzhazhe” show.

Tinker-Smith said she also didn’t always intend to tour with the show, and initially had a much smaller vision for what has grown to become so much more.

“I was going to do a couple of shows, videotape it, and take it to kids and tribes across the country hoping to inspire them to their artistic endeavors,” she said. “After the first show, some elders came and by the time we got to our second location they wanted us at the National Museum of the American Indian.

From there, according to Tinker-Smith, the show has snowballed, gaining momentum as they tour to many more places than she first imagined, even performing in front of the Pope.

The show is funded entirely through donations, according to Tinker-Smith, and any proceeds are put back into simply keeping it running. She said she was lucky enough to receive the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts grant.

“It was a miracle. They told me every month for a year that I wasn’t going to get it.”

With some other donations from several Oklahoma based oil companies, the show is able to reach not only kids in Native American tribes, but people from all walks of life who can benefit from learning about Native American history from an original perspective.

It represents us, we’re telling our story and defining ourselves,” Tinker-Smith said. “It’s the vision that keeps us going. I think everybody needs to see this show and learn about us. It’s our country. It’s the United States and we’re a part of that.”