The Lifetime TV series Dance Moms did a full-on parody of Native culture on Tuesday night when five girls in the Abby Lee Dance Company competed for their instructor's approval in a number called "Tribal Council." According to the recap at Glamorosi,
The group will do a Native American-inspired jazz routine called "Tribal Council" - Abby got the idea for the number after seeing Cher in concert.
Fast-forward to the actual performance, in which a 13-year-old girl named Nia gets the lead role. As described by Glamorosi:
The group competes first with their "Tribal Council" routine; they wear two-piece costumes that are red with gold trim, except for Nia, who wears gold with red trim. They all wear face paint and headpieces; Nia wears a full headdress, and they all take turns dancing on a large drum. This is, of course, culturally inappropriate, and I'm surprised it got by the producers, but I do not fault the girls.
That's an important point—the (often very) young girls who compete on the show are following orders from adults, and Abby Lee Miller in particular.
Here's a clip of the dance number from Lifetime's YouTube channel:
On the show's Facebook page, the issue of cultural appropriation has been brought up by a number of viewers. Here's one comment:
as a native woman I think it's disrespectful. and frankly I always complain when famous people try to make our culture a fashion choice. Learn real ways to respect a native. The headdress is stupid, the face paint is stupid.
Others are disturbed by Abby's trend of fetishizing minority dancers. One user says:
So far this child has had to dress up as a dog, a 70's blacksploitation charachter a slave, an Indian and now a Native American. Abby we get it her skin is brown.
13-year-old dancer Nia in a promotional still for 'Dance Moms.'
As for the whole thing being inspired by Cher, that's an appropriation issue that has been around for years. Many Natives have found her feather-headdress act, most memorably in connection to her song "Half Breed," to be offensive. Cher's claim of Native ancestry, which might be completely true, only makes it more disappointing that she would sexualize traditional dress and sacred regalia. Here's the original 1973 video: